The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Purists may hate it, but The Great Gatsby and its layers of superficiality explore celebrity culture nicely and may be Luhrmann’s most nuanced work so far.

Buy on Amazon: The Great Gatsby [DVD + UV Copy] [2013]

An extravagant showman. A soulless individual obsessed with style over substance. Baz Luhrmann is the classic case of a ‘marmite’ director, with his body of work proving divisive. From his unorthodox postmodern approach to a Shakespearean classic (Romeo and Juliet) to the frenzied razzmatazz of Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann’s fascination with forbidden love stories tinged with tragedy make a great case for him striving for ‘auteur’ status. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a much beloved F. Scott Fitzgerald work that encapsulates many of the defining elements of Luhrmann’s films. With the appliance of 3D, is Luhrmann deliberately attempting to cause upheaval with the purists with this glossy version?

The Great Gatsby: Picture New York City in 1922. The inhabitants of the Big Apple drown themselves in liquor, intoxicated by their American dreams. Arriving from the Mid-West, wannabe writer/Wall Street trader Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is our socially awkward yet level-headed guide/narrator. Initially far from comfortable being immersed in such lavish situations, he is eventually drawn to his enigmatic neighbour Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio), a man who’s the talk of the town.

With money to burn and parties to throw, Gatsby and his handsome exterior may charm the masses but from a personal perspective, good looks and parties are mere tools to aid him to recapture a romance ripped apart by his exertions in World War I. Gatsby embraces wannabe writer Nick, who remains oblivious to the ‘coincidence’ that Gatsby is attracted to Nick’s frivolous yet glamourous cousin Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan). Gatsby’s ‘living in the fast lane’ approach is abruptly drawn to a halt on Nick/Daisy’s arrival, with the added complications of Daisy’s involvement with domineering husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and the gradual teasing reveal of his mysterious past.

With much eluding to the ‘green light’, this film serves as a visual metaphor to drive home the rashness of its characters’ decisions and also provides an opportunity for Luhrmann to once again dabble in intertextual indulgence. Its passive nod to the Jazz age in exchange with bombarding you with an eclectic soundtrack consisting of hip-hop heavy Jay-Z and the soaring vocals of Florence Welch a mere example, Luhrmann seems determined to make his ‘Gatsby’ accessible and leave viewers drawing comparisons with the obsessive ‘party hard, fail hard’ nature of celebrity culture.

As a direct result, this adaptation (whilst faithful to the text) initially gets stifled by its superficial tendencies, particularly in its uneven and frenetically edited early stages, compounded by its often stunning aesthetic. Once our leading man is introduced, however, the film settles into a much-improved narrative rhythm, allowing the story to breathe and eventually soar.

Reunited with Luhrmann seventeen years after his portrayal of Romeo, Dicaprio is inevitably the star of the show here with a mesmerising performance as Gatsby. His approach is wonderfully nuanced as his persona slowly unravels while remaining fittingly charismatic at the height of his powers; praising the ever-consistent actor has become something of an ‘old sport’. Carey Mulligan is solid as love interest Daisy with their well staged meet-cute fittingly understated, and a deeper interpretation of her character lurking underneath. Deliberately serving as a reliable figure increasingly drifting onto the outskirts ‘looking in’, Tobey Maguire is competent as Carraway, with ‘lesser-knowns’ Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Debicki also subverting their potentially limited roles with aplomb.

Inevitably, this 2013 version will polarise audiences and may not appeal to hardcore purist fans of the novel. Nonetheless, audacious in its execution and anchored by a terrific lead performance, ‘The Great Gatsby’ – for all its spectacular visuals and artistic flair – may just be Luhrmann’s most restrained and emotionally engaging film to date.