The Great Gatsby (****)
Directed By Baz Luhrmann
Running time: 143 minutes
Starring – Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton
(Preview screening Movie House Dublin Road 13/05/2013)
IN my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. The memorable opening lines of F. Scott-Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Now Australian director Baz Luhrmann brings his unique interpretation of the iconic book to the big screen.
The man behind such films as Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet isn’t known for his visual restraint and many an eyebrow was raised when the director announced he would follow-up his 2008 feature Australia with this movie. Even more surprisingly still, it would be his first foray into 3D filmmaking.
The plot see’s Tobey Maguire’s washed up character Nick Carraway recounting to a psychiatrist his time in New York City and encounter with the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) during the 1920s. Struggling to tell the story he is advised by the physician to write it all down.
Everything is shot with the director’s trademark over the top visual style, which beautifully captures the essence of such a decadent era in American history. Carraway is introduced to a lifestyle of extravagance by his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her adulterous husband Tom, played by Joel Edgerton.
But the naïve young bond salesman finds himself strangely drawn to his next door neighbour, the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, whose character is an enigma to those in attendance, his background cloaked in shadow and rumour, but simply holds the hottest parties in town. Luhrmann captures the majesty of Gatsby’s grand home, much like its owner the house holds many mysteries and secrets. Gatsby’s character is an enigma to those in attendance, his background cloaked in shadow and rumour.
As the two men slowly form a close friendship, Gatsby begins to slowly reveal his true past to Carraway, revealing his humble beginnings and lifelong quest to change his fortune. Gatsby’s character is a dreamer and hopeless romantic who only moved to New York because of his unwavering love for Carraway’s cousin. It transpires that Gatsby and Daisy had a brief but intense relationship five years earlier and not even Daisy’s marriage or time has dampened his infatuation.
From his grandiose entrance, DiCaprio gives a truly magnetic performance throughout the feature. Some critics sneered when they heard of his casting in such an iconic role, but hopefully the actor will have proved them wrong because he’s by far the best thing in this film. His portrayal of a man who came from nowhere to become a somebody, simply by the use of his own imagination is wonderful, echoing his fine performance as Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s 2004 feature The Aviator.
But credit must also go to Carey Mulligan, the British actress continues to impress with every performance, from her role as the fragile Sissy in Shame to the complicated character of Irene in Drive, she’s simply one of the hottest and most versatile actresses working within the industry right now. There’s great chemistry and tension between her and DiCaprio’s character throughout the feature. The two former sweethearts are unable to resist temptation and rekindle their relationship, ultimately leading to Gatsby’s downfall.
Sadly both Edgerton and Maguire gave disappointing performances in their respective roles. Maguire’s voice perfectly suits the film’s narration but at times he looks out of depth within the film, particularly during his interchanges with DiCaprio. Edgerton too was a tad stuffy for my likening and I never truly believed him as the womanizing, adulterous Tom Buchanan.
Considering the lofty weight of the source material, it’s a shame that such depth has been lost within Luhrmann’s feature, but then depth isn’t necessarily his foray. The movie captures the essence of a society at the pinnacle of its extravagance, but it never really gets its teeth into the core of the text. Considering the end of the 1920’s saw the Wall Street crash and the onset of the Great Depression there’s a certain irony in watching such excess onscreen.
Having watched the feature in 2D I don’t feel the need to re watch it again in 3D, as I feel the effects would add little if anything to the overall viewing experience. While the movie never really gets stuck into Fitzgerald’s novel, I still enjoyed Luhrmann’s splendidly decadent interpretation, thanks primarily to its lush visuals,DiCaprio’s fine performance and slick soundtrack.
Review by William McClean