The Great Gatsby. Many have tried, but critics agree that no film maker has been able to definitively interpret and adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel. Baz Luhrmann is the fifth director to bring this book to the silver screen, and while his film is also likely to divide the critics, Luhrmann’s audacious style of film making is well suited to the lavish decadence of the Roaring Twenties. After two and a half hours of bright colours, eclectic music, and bold set pieces, I think you will either love or hate this film.
Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire) is a failed bonds salesman on Wall Street, a failed writer, and a recovering alcoholic. The city that once enthralled him is crumbling before his eyes, but through it all he is able to recount the story of a single beacon of hope. Gatsby. Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is an enigma. He is a decorated war hero, he studied at Oxford, and he rubs shoulders with some of the most important people in New York City. His open invitation parties are the talk of the town – alcohol fuelled mixtures of extravagance and debauchery designed for maximum enjoyment. Gatsby is living the American dream, but he is missing just one thing – the beautiful Daisy Buchanan (played by Carey Mulligan) whom he met five years ago. Daisy has moved on, married to Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgerton) and mother to their daughter Pammy, but Gatsby will have his American dream, no matter the cost.
The acting is very good in this film, probably better than anything we’ve previously seen in a Baz Luhrmann film. DiCaprio proves again why he considered one of the most reliable leading men in Hollywood, his performance memorable for all the right reasons like the way he awkwardly delivers Gatsby’s catch phrase “Old Sport”, or the portrayal of his blind affection for Daisy. Mulligan and Maguire put in very polished performances, as do Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki in the roles of Myrtle Wilson and Jordan Baker. But Joel Edgerton is by far the standout performer in this movie, commanding the screen with an intimidating presence and an accent that Chris Hemsworth and Sam Worthington could only dream of pulling off.
The Great Gatsby is undoubtedly a Baz Luhrmann film, told at a frantic pace in an over-the-top theatrical style. Luhrmann’s mantra for this film must have been “more” or “faster, higher, stronger”, and I can imagine Luhrmann giving commands like “this scene needs more extras” or “this dress needs more shimmer” until he expended every last cent of his budget. The Jay Z produced soundtrack used in conjunction with an upbeat jazz score is likely to make a few people cringe and deride the film for its inaccuracies and anachronisms, but for me the music fit perfectly into Luhrmann’s vision.
The Great Gatsby is an entertaining film, easily Luhrmann’s best effort since Strictly Ballroom. The “in your face” nature of the film may put a lot of people off, and students of the novel will likely find one reason or another to tear the film down. I loved it, and if you have not read the book, if you have read the book and have an open mind about interpreting novels for film, or if you just like Luhrmann’s films, I think you will love The Great Gatsby too.
Review by Ryan Lawler