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Two Other Gatsbys, Two Better Nicks

by Caryn James
May 6, 2013 10:24 PM
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The Great Gatsby is both irresistible to filmmakers and notoriously hard to adapt. All that color and glamour comes crashing up against the eloquence of Fitzgerald's prose and the ineffability of Gatsby's dreams.  Baz Luhrmann's new version gives us a wondrous performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and a dreadful, flat performance by Tobey Maguire as the narrator, Nick Carraway. (You can find my review here.)   But take a look at two better Nicks and one good, maligned Gatsby:


 Attacked by critics on its release, this Gatsby (directed by Jack Clayton, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola) never recovered. Robert Redford's performance unfairly took a lot of the blame. In fact, he's quite good, stiff when Gatsby is supposed to be stiff (the phrase "Old Sport" is not meant to roll off Gatsby's tongue easily), warm when he needs to reveal his passion for Daisy. Mia Farrow's chilly, charmless Daisy is the real weak link here.

 But the film's strongest weapon is what every Gatsby needs: a brilliant Nick, which it found in Sam Waterston (photo at top).  His voice is just elegiac enough, just awed enough, and always nuanced. Waterston's is the definitive Nick, the rare performance that captures the eloquence of the novel.


 For some bizarre reason, in 2001 A&E gave us a version with Toby Stephens as a totally unconvincingly Gatsby, too thuggish to exude any mystery, and Mira Sorvino as a Daisy with a breathless Minnie Mouse voice. No, it was not meant to be a satire. The proof is the one strong element: Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway.  

Before he became the most likable star in romantic and goofball comedies, Rudd gave a terrific, solid, sensitive performance as Nick. Maybe that's not enough to make you rent this film, but if you're looking for curiosities – or you're a Rudd or Gatsby completist – there it is.   

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  • tamara moscowitz | May 11, 2013 12:15 PMReply

    The Redford/Farrow/Waterson 1974 version was dreadful because Redford can't act against a woman and Farrow, well, that should say enough. The current version is fresh, over the top as it should be for a 1920s story in the Jazz Age. And, the music is fresh, an original idea. Most critics are too old to enjoy this movie for what it is - except I usually like Caryn James.
    Bring on the new

  • olver hale | May 7, 2013 1:41 PMReply

    Oh my God! Mia Farrow's perfomance was painful to watch. The 2000' version is a complete mess.

  • Joe Leydon | May 6, 2013 11:28 PMReply

    Gosh, and I thought I was the only one who remembered how good Waterston was (and how bad Redford wasn't) back in the 1974 version.

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