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Hammerle on...'The Great Gatsby,' 'Iron Man 3'

Robert Hammerle
May 22, 2013
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The Great Gatsby

To begin with, no actor dies on the silver screen with the style and grace of Leonardo DiCaprio. He memorably succumbed in the cold Atlantic while preserving the life of his beloved Kate Winslet in “Titanic” (1997). In “Blood Diamond” (2006), he passed away slowly on an African mountain cliff as he talked over the phone to the grieving Jennifer Connelly. And Quentin Tarantino should have ended last year’s “Django Unchained” when Mr. DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz left the stage in a hail of gunfire.

With “The Great Gatsby,” Mr. DiCaprio honors F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic literary creation with a performance that tugs at the human soul. Sure, he throws some outrageously splendid parties, but the fundamental reason hiding behind the curtain is far simpler.

Hammerle_gatsby.jpgMr. DiCaprio allows Jay Gatsby to shine as an extraordinarily wealthy man with a broken heart. He seeks nothing more than to somehow win back Daisy Buchanan, the one thing that he treasures more than life itself.

The problem centers on the fact that Buchanan lives with her wealthy, philandering husband in a mansion across the lake from Gatsby’s lavish estate. She reluctantly married five years earlier when Gatsby disappeared for reasons that will be revealed, and neither has been able to rest easy as a result.

While Joel Edgerton gives an engrossing performance as Tom Buchanan, a man who values his inherited wealth more than his commitment to his wife, Carey Mulligan shines as the lovely and tormented Daisy. Though she has grown to profoundly resent her husband, she clearly loved him at one time. Though her heart belongs to Gatsby, how does she leave the man who is the father of her small daughter?

What defines “The Great Gatsby” as an adult film is the performance of Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. He narrates the story as he sits years later in a sanitarium trying to overcome the alcohol abuse that consumed him when he lived in a small cottage next to the Gatsby home during the Roaring ‘20s.

Carraway became Gatsby’s only true friend, and he grew to love him as much as he appreciated his romantic quest. While his life was filled with mystery, Carraway saw Gatsby as the only man he had ever met dedicated to both hope and a feeling that you could recreate the past.

Mr. Luhrmann has brought us an alluring film that recreates the garish splendor of the Jazz Age that in some ways reflects 21st century America. The stock market was booming, opulence was at its height and the working poor were largely ignored except when a pretty wife was available for a one-night stand.

The many critics who have rejected this film are dead wrong when they complain that it does a disservice to Mr. Fitzgerald. As a reminder, let me point out that Mr. Maguire’s Carraway was the only person to attend Gatsby’s funeral. When Mr. Fitzgerald died at the age of 44, so few people attended that pallbearers had to be hired. Sometimes dying young is not the tragedy it seems.

Iron Man 3

“Iron Man 3” is the cinematic equivalent of going to a great restaurant only to have the steak overcooked. Sure, the salad and side dishes were superb, but I was forced to chew so long on the meat that I gradually lost interest.

Robert Downey Jr. is spectacularly entertaining as Iron Man and yet brutally irritating as Tony Stark. Why Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts wants to stay with him is as befuddling as Stark’s attraction to her. Fundamentally, they are both profoundly annoying.

On the other hand, I am a great admirer of Mr. Downey, and he saves the film with his interaction with a small boy and his discovery that the terrorist known as The Mandarin is not the reincarnation of Osama bin Laden. Downey’s scenes with the kid are as funny as they are politically incorrect, and he is at his best when allowed to embrace his comic genius.

hammerle_ironman.jpgWhile Mr. Downey is always watchable, it is Ben Kingsley’s role that brings a legendary twist that can’t be missed. Mr. Kingsley steals the film playing the international terrorist named above. Cold and chilling on the outside, he harbors a secret that will literally leave you in stitches. It’s a great performance by a great actor, and he should be remembered when Oscar season rolls around.

Furthermore, Guy Pearce again shines as a handsome, demented villain with absolutely no conscience. He evolves from a Zuckerberg-like youthful geek into a tormented scientist who has mastered the ability to manipulate the human brain. He stands out as much as he did as the hateful Charlie Rakes in last year’s underrated “Lawless” and as King Edward VIII, the British monarch who gave up his throne to marry his divorced lover in the Oscar winning “The King’s Speech” (2010).

As anticipated, the special effects are masterfully done. However, they go on and on, reaching the point where you’re left mumbling, “Enough is enough!” Unfortunately, there is one too many “Iron Men” for my taste.

For all of its shortcomings, the movie’s spectacular box office performance is a reflection of the talent of Mr. Downey. When he was struggling with his drug addiction years ago that kept him on the sidelines, I laughingly urged Congress to pass legislation that would authorize him to use as many narcotics as he desired. After all, wouldn’t society be far better off seeing this brilliant actor on the screen as opposed to behind bars?

While Mr. Downey’s great performances have been recognized, you must not overlook the brilliance of his smaller films. Think of his gay brother in “Home for the Holidays” (1995), and his unforgettable performance as the young man who was trapped by his girlfriends in “Two Girls and a Guy” (1997). Then there were his extraordinary contributions to “The Wonder Boys” (2000), “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005), and “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005).

In a sense, he is the literal reincarnation of the legendary Charlie Chaplin, a man he ironically played in “Chaplin” (1992).•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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