While never taking his eyes off what made the original work of art so enduring, director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann delivers a film for today. In his new The Great Gatsby, the visually alert Australian director understands he is dealing with an American treasure, while also recognizing its cinematic appeal for a modern audience.
Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, this Gatsby covers most of the ground laid out in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel. But what might surprise the author is how well Luhrmann and his impressive technical crew have visually translated the trappings and settings of 1920s New York and Long Island, complete with a huge Gatsby mansion that could only have been created with computer-generated imaging.
To complement Gatsby’s lavish parties and the era’s extravagant dress, Catherine Martin’s costumes and production designs sparkle through a rapidly revolving succession of quick scenes consisting of short shots from cinematographer Simon Duggan. Luhrmann also deftly mixes Craig Armstrong’s often lush musical track with snippets from Bach, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jay-Z and many others.
Overall, the special-effects team succeeds in creating a fantasy world, one that encompasses the rough areas of Long Island as well as the people whose mystery is only surpassed by their beauty.
Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway, a Wall Street neophyte who tells in flashback the story of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), his neighbor in Long Island’s West Egg. Carraway’s shrink (Jack Thompson) advises Nick to write it down, and as such, the words actually flow upon the screen as Luhrmann pays homage to Fitzgerald’s seamless prose — even as it’s delivered by the bland Maguire.
Gatsby remains a man of mystery as the story unfolds of his one-time love for Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), now married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). But amid Gatsy’s lavishly animated parties, he stands aloof, the center of various rumors and wild fabrications. Sticking close to Fitzgerald, Luhrmann fleshes out Gatsby’s life story, making him even more interesting.
In telling this tragic love story, Luhrmann never loses sight of Fitzgerald’s acute perception of the destructive quest for the American dream. And only in such a wildly original film could such a dream be realized.
It may not be a great Gatsby, but it is a pretty darn good one.
The Great Gatsby
Rated PG-13, 143 minutes.