Joel Edgerton

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Bonds salesman by day/writer by night, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to the village of West Egg in Long Island to take a big bite out of the Big Apple, and potentially realise his dreams. Only ever drunk twice, Carraway is a wide-eyed innocent in a manner usually reserved for puppies in windows.

His second cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay in East Egg and it’s there that he joins her for polite meals and woolly conversations. Daisy is married to Thomas Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a broad stroke of old money and compacted arrogance who is also rogering the wife of a poor mechanic. Whilst Tom’s infidelities are well known by Daisy, she fails to react. Instead choosing to hide behind the carefree visage of a flapper.

Everything in Caraway’s life, however, is peachy, if a little dry and uninspiring. Soon, Carraway quickly becomes enamoured with the idea of his Nuevo riche neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonard DiCaprio). An enigma to seemingly all, Carraway watches the glow of Gatsby’s all night parties from his porch until one day he is finally invited to attend one. In doing so, Carraway becomes embroiled in events that will pierce right to centre of his own life, as well as Daisy’s.

And that’s the best place to leave it for fear of ruining some of the joy of discovery.

The Great Gatsby, as a novel, is synonymous with being a slight but powerfully poetic tale that nearly no one can find fault with. So it’s understandable that some balked at the idea of Luhrmann touching it. This is the man who, in previous movies, placed a gun in Romeo’s hand and conducted a gang of elderly horny men to sing a chorus of Smells like to Teen Spirit. He likes to experiment to the potential detriment of the original text.

For those looking for a restrained interpretation of the American Dream dissected should seek solace elsewhere. The Great Gatsby is as vibrant and colossal as one of the titular rich boy’s parties. Filmed in 3D, Gatsby doesn’t just reach out to the symbolic green light, he reaches out to us; All very showy and almost shallow. Almost being the operative word here, for Luhrmann has hung his narration on the device that Carraway is recalling the story 15 years later from the safety of a doctor’s office, where he is being treated for depression. Whilst this does cause problems for the flow of the film by sporadically slowing it down – ‘You must write this down’ the doctor cries in one of the film’s acts of onanism – it serves as a gateway to Carraway recalling the events of yesteryear. This puts the film in a constant state of heightened reality. The raucous parties, the vilification of Gatsby’s obsessive character… It’s all there, but maybe Carraway just isn’t that reliable a narrator. Even if the details have eroded away, the emotions have stayed.

And focussing all our attention on the big party pieces that Lurhmann gives us, negates the moments of intimacy the film provides. ‘I like big parties. They’re so intimate’ says Daisy’s golf pro friend Jordan ‘At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’ And Luhrmann proves this later on in a cramped sweltering hotel room, where our protagonists have holed themselves in a vain attempt to escape the summer. As the afternoon wears on, Tom and Gatsby politely go toe to toe, with Tom getting the upper hand through a verbal death of a thousand cuts. Joel Edgerton is wonderful as he stalks the scenes, taking pot shots whenever he can at Gatsby – The man from oxford in the pink suit.

And what of Gatsby himself? Like the film, we’ve waited a while to reveal him. DiCaprio, despite some hesitance on our part, is completely believable as the lovelorn and mysterious Gatsby. He owns every scene he’s in, willing to show Gatsby as vulnerable when needed.  It’s a shame then that Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire fail to sparkle. It’s not that they can’t act, it’s just they seem to solely be there to react to things. In the instance of Carraway this can be justified, but for Daisy who plays a large part in Gatsby’s life, it’s a bit of problem. At times, we’re never truly convinced that she warrants so much attention from Gatsby.

There are many angles with which to take Gatsby and whilst Luhrmann’s does not contain the florid nature of Fitzgerald’s verse, the book will still be there for those who need it. Luhrmann has made a bold movie that does something the serious analysis and coveting of the text will not achieve, it opens it up to the wider public. Like Gatsby himself, The Great Gatsby has got to be like this. It’s got keep moving on. And if it makes someone pick up a copy on their way back from the cinema what harm has it really done?

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Felony (2013)

Written by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby), Felony is a gritty Australian thriller that dissects the ideas of morals and honour amongst thieves. Or in this case, honour amongst the boys in blue.

Mal Toohey, played by Edgerton, is a hardworking detective with a decent future ahead for him and his family. After a successful raid and a near miss with a bullet, Toohey and his colleagues blow off steam at the local watering hole. From this point on, Toohey makes a mistake that will scar his life immeasurably. He decides to drink drive home and ends up clipping a young boy out on his bike. When the authorities arrive on the scene, senior detective Carl Summer, played by Tom Wilkinson, takes Mal under his wing and helps fabricate a story that the Mal is in fact a hero. Whilst the boy lies in a coma at hospital, the two men begin to feel the pressure. Mal struggles with his conscience and Carl is harassed by his young by the book partner, Jim Melic (Jai Courtney), who believes Mal’s act of heroism doesn’t add up.

Felony’s dark and stressful themes will certainly stir up emotions in its audience. Its three-way structure and moral ambiguity reminded us instantly of Curt Hanson’s LA Confidential, with each of our three protagonists lying somewhere on the spectrum of corruption. Even the wet behind the ears tests his professionalism when he starts to become attracted to the young boy’s mother, Ankhila Sarduka, played with great emotion by Sarah Roberts.

The performances are superb with Wilkinson standing out the most. Starting off cocksure and a little out of touch with modern society, he expertly portrays a man whose own moral barometer is no longer fit for purpose. Meanwhile, Edgerton moves from one scene to the next riding the clutch on a man ready to collapse under the weight of his own guilt and Courtney manages to maintain his head whilst all those around him lose theirs.

Felony is a mature piece of work that certainly shows Edgerton’s talents in writing. Here’s hoping the film gets the recognition it deserves outside of Australia.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

When Kathryn Bigelow underdogged the oscar from Avatar, a sigh of relief audible from space was omitted by cinephiles everywhere. In retrospect, The Hurt Locker turned out to be an interesting, well made film, looking at war from an unusual, positive angle that, on repeat viewings, turned out to have about a teaspoonful of narrative amidst it’s machismo. Now, with Zero Dark Thirty, a tale that begins with the horrific events of 9/11 and ends with the horrific events in a compound on the Iran/Afghanistan border, Bigelow has, if anything, a massive surplus of narrative, a whole truckload of twelve years of muddled, secretive counter intelligence, wars and further terrorist action to refine into a cohesive film that we should probably be grateful only lasts two and three quarter hours.

Scripted by Mark Boal, also responsible for The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty draws an uncomfortably straight line that leads the CIA directly from 9/11 to “justifiable” torture to the public transport bombings in London to The Marriot bombing in Islamabad to the discovery of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Simplifying a globally fraught and politically nightmarish 12 years might have been narratively necessary but feels obliquely disingenuous to an audience, all of whom will bring their own personal viewpoints and experiences to bear. One wonders how this film is playing in Iran or Afghanistan or China. We should stress that no money, equipment or assistance from the US Military was requested, which is admirable, and the film tries so very, very hard to walk the molecule thin line between right and wrong. However, when it falls off it is invariably onto the gung-ho American side.

This film is expertly made. Shot beautifully by Greig Fraser in very suitable, faux documentary style, structured well by an elegant script, scored by music that builds gradually and remains perfectly backgrounded throughout. Performed professionally by actors with skill and absolutely no showboating and all held together with the tightest direction of Bigelow’s career. Zero Dark Thirty is gripping, slick and paced perfectly. It’s hard to imagine anyone making a better film on this subject (United 93 remains the best reflection of 9/11 film making fallout), it just trips over it’s own tangled shoelaces.

The torture scenes are dispassionate, functionary and unbearable. As they should be. Dan (Jason Clarke) portrays the CIA interrogator featured most prominently. He’s jaded, viewing it as just a job and barely seeing humanity anymore. He pointedly shows his pet monkeys more compassion than the human being he has just shoved into a tiny box. He initiates Maya (Jessica Chastain deserves the Oscar) into his world, where she initially balks, but then becomes complicit within. A scene where we are asked to feel sorry for Maya and her terrible, necessary duties and the weight it leaves on her shoulders is far too rich and absolutely the film’s low point. When the crucial piece of information that leads to Bin Laden’s discovery is revealed to have been in the CIA’s possession for years, rendering the, now shut down, rendition programs seemingly meaningless, Zero Dark Thirty claws back a lot of respectability. As does a scene where a CIA operative incredulously asks how they are supposed to obtain information without recourse to torture now Obama is in office.

As soon as Bin Laden’s compound is identified, the film could logically end. In All The President’s Men, as soon as the link between the burglars and President Nixon is discovered, the credit’s roll as the rest of the story, Nixon’s impeachment, was so widely covered already. The grey, high walled building occupied by Bin Laden and several other families was so ubiquitous on the rolling news channels that it leaves the (worryingly Call Of Duty like) denouement, although brilliantly staged and shot, feeling somewhat pornographic as we wait and guess and jump and expect the next frame to contain the death of the world’s most wanted man. Bin Laden’s death in May 2011 means this film has been turned around in eighteen months and some of the joy masquerading as relief that was visible (from an outsider looking into America) seems to have seeped into this admirable attempt to remain dispassionate about a necessary, unpleasant, almost entirely justifiable chapter in America’s history. Perhaps as more distance is achieved more perspective will arrive. However, as of now, Zero Dark Thirty remains an uneasy proposition, marred by ethical dilemmas that were never really dilemmas in the first place.