There’s no denying that anyone who has the guts to take one of the most classic novels in American literature, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 ‘The Great Gatsby’ and imagine it according to their own unique vision, has a tremendous amount of courage! Baz Luhrmann armed with his multi-million dollar budget, cast of Hollywood’s finest and CGI technology successfully creates his own original Luhrmann-esque masterpiece which ultimately emphasises ludicrous bedazzlement over dramatic, emotional integrity.
Narrated retrospectively by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) from a sanitarium, the script focuses on the boy’s arrival to New York in the early 1920’s when he moves into a small cottage right next to a massive mansion. When he meets the mysterious incredibly wealthy owner of this mansion Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the two naturally become friends and Nick is whisked away into a new world of extravagance and expensive parties, but of course there is more at play here; think hidden romantic agendas and painful passions.
The production and costume design are incredibly astonishing and detailed, which can only be expected given it’s a Luhrmann film (think Romeo + Juliet or Moulin Rouge). Not only are they visually stunning, but they reproduce the detail of the roaring 20’s whilst evoking the film’s themes and elements of particular character’s traits.
The Valley of Ashes, the industrial wasteland situated between West Egg and New York, is ever so bleak creating a distinct contrast between the world of the rich party-goers and the working class. In juxtaposition Gatsby’s mansion is both so full of extravagant energy, yet so hollow and empty.
The crazy elaborate party scenes taking place here are a true visual standout. Through the use of rapid editing, frenzied montages and incredible camera-work, Luhrmann zips through the swirling high-society of the roaring 20’s in a way which will leave an audience astounded and unsure of where to look.
The soundtrack produced by Jay-Z is another highly unique element of this film. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined a hip-hop meets jazz combination working, yet it strangely works. The soundtrack featuring the voices of Jay-Z himself, Beyonce, Fergie, Lana Del Ray, Will.I.Am, Florence and The Machine (just to name a few); adds a modern spin to the jazz age, that is definitely worth a listen outside the cinema as well!
Given the star-studded cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Debicki; strong performances are most definitely expected from this film! And the performances are mostly strong.
Tobey Maguire in his narration delivers Fitzgerald’s prose wonderfully, Aussie Joel Edgerton encapsulates the entitled brutish nature of Tom Buchanan and Isla Fisher is superb as Buchanan’s mistress Myrtle.
Leonardo DiCaprio is fitting as Gatsby, both magnificent and insecure; however, he may have overused the term “Old Sport” one, or two, times too many. Carey Mulligan as Daisy whilst perfect in appearance was quite underwhelming.
All the performances, lack in one major thing: emotion. Whether, they were robbed of displaying such emotion from the constant cuts and camera soars clearing the action for sweeping cityscapes never allowing the close-ups to hold long enough to evoke emotions, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, is that there wasn’t enough emotive appeal from the characters, the emotional depth and tragic romance at the core of Fitzgerald’s prose lost amongst the amazing aesthetics.
Luhrmann has definitely left his own mark on this adaption of The Great Gatsby, and did anyone really expect less from him? Subtlety never has been his specialty. The film almost looks as though it is made by Gatsby himself, its expensive, extravagant yet hollow and lacking in emotion.
I’d give it a solid 5.5 out of 10 stars. Don’t get me wrong Luhrmann’s version is definitely far from boring. And if you are up to see a spectacle, fabulous costumes, and some amazing visuals it is definitely worth seeing. However, if it’s a lyrical emotive tale of tragic romance obsession and secrecy you are after then F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel is probably more for you.