Dir: Baz Luhrmann, 2013
New York City, the Roaring Twenties. A time of celebration and prosperity for all except Nick Carraway, who has plunged into a stupor of alcoholism and depression. Encouraged by his psychiatrist to express himself, Carraway recounts his woeful tale of the greatest man he ever met – the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby.
The works of Baz Luhrmann have always provided a marvellous exhibition of elegance as cameras sweep through grandiose sets and lights shine brighter than Broadway in a dazzling palette of colour. Yes, Luhrmann is as much a showman as he is a romantic. But what’s interesting about Luhrmann’s choice of these passion projects is his treatment of the production in as romantic a manner as he handles the material. His presentation of The Great Gatsby is certainly style over substance but that is not to completely dismiss Luhrmann’s interpretation of the novel as much as highlight the tremendous amalgamation of sight and sound that is flaunted in every passing minute.
Endowed with the challenge of bringing Gatsby to a new generation, Luhrmann repeats the past in revitalising his Romeo + Juliet formula for F. Scott Fitzgerald. The film is littered with exuberant sets, jazzy hip-hop soundtracks and enough pretty young faces to inject life into Leaving Certificate English. DiCaprio is near-perfect as Gatsby, reprising the facade of sophistication he wore in Revolutionary Road and the fluttering charm of a certain Montague. It’s simply a delight to see Leo embody a character that excels confidence before the world but melts into awkwardness in front of the object of his affection. Yet there is a hint of menace within this enigmatic man, a point that is regrettably stressed moreso through several lackadaisical, one-sided phone calls instead of modelling Gatsby’s behaviour. Maguire is incredibly strong as the once-idealistic but now-haunted protagonist through which we see our story and backed up by a repulsively sectarian Joel Edgerton. As a matter of fact, if anyone is short-changed here it’s Carey Mulligan, whose character isn’t explored enough for the audience to sympathise with her flummoxed Daisy Buchanan.
Nevertheless even with a running time of 130 minutes, Luhrmann brushes through the narrative; more considered with adding extra layers of varnish to what frequently resembles a heavily-stylized music video and Jay-Z’s executive producer credit leads to a Jay-Z/Beyonce-heavy soundtrack which is distracting to the point of becoming propaganda. Also, Luhrmann’s attempt to garner a wide audience results in a compromise of the subject matter as the story never reaches the depths that it should, instead tailoring itself to a 12s audience.
Yes, the films reeks a little too much of Romeo + Juliet and the melodrama reaches unbearable heights in the third act but The Great Gatsby remains a tableau of luminous colours and intoxicating performances and a rare film which I regretted not witnessing in 3D. Not the adaptation Gatsby deserves but admirable nonetheless.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆