Baz Luhrmann doesn’t so much make films as he does experiences, and he’s done it again with The Great Gatsby, a luxuriously engaging extravaganza that all but renders another adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic unnecessary.
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire as the perfect audience avatar) narrates the life changing events of 1922 when he moved to Long Island with dreams of making good in New York as a bond salesman.
He reconnects with his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan, Drive), and her pompous, millionaire husband, Tom, (Joel Edgerton, Zero Dark Thirty) and their gossip-mongering friend, Jordan Baker (a captivating Elizabeth Debicki).
Nick embraces this new world with Tom and Jordan as his guides and learns that beyond the smiles and stupid money are the same petty issues of the desolate — just with more lies and secrets.
Tom is cheating on Daisy with Myrtle (Isla Fisher), the wife of George (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty), a mechanic running a struggling garage. Daisy knows of the affair, but has become accustomed to the grand life and isn’t ready to leave it.
It’s not until Nick receives an invitation to meet his neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) — owner of a lavish estate and host of front page worthy parties — that he gets the full scope of the high life.
For the first hour, Luhrmann (who also co-wrote the script) takes you on a mind-trip of colors, music and spectacle, you’ll feel hypnotized, from Catherine Martin’s dazzling costumes and the big band numbers. It’s intoxicating and you see why Nick finds it so appealing.
Luhrmann paints the decadence and carefree living as an ideal escape from reality. The setting may be in the 1920s, but you can almost see the glimpses of today’s tabloid fodder in every scene.
Only after letting you revel in the superficial does Luhrmann and co-screenwriter Craig Pearce begin to reveal the man behind the curtain.
Gatsby eventually tells Nick of his past with Daisy and asks for his help in rekindling the flame, but this reconciliation has drastic repercussions.
What makes this another standout effort from DiCaprio is how easily he captures the many faces of Gatsby — the debonair host, the nervous suitor, the hopeful optimist, etc. He makes Gatsby a little too eager to impress with his wealth as if that’s all he needs and Gatsby’s take on the world is fascinating, if not a little tragic.
His chemistry with Mulligan feels real and she’s terrific in conveying Daisy’s conflicting emotions. Maguire has never been better and he finally has an interesting role post-Peter Parker. Edgerton continues to showcase his versatility and Debicki is so magnetic you wish Luhrmann could add her to every scene.
I was a little worried upon learning that Jay-Z was collaborating with Luhrmann on the soundtrack as the mix of 2013 hip hop and a film set in the Roaring Twenties sounded like a dubious combination, but it surprisingly works for the most part. Lana Del Ray’s Young and Beautiful is the standout track, but this is a strong effort throughout and a purchase worthy soundtrack.
If ever there was a director made to make a movie in 3D that wasn’t a summer blockbuster, it’s Luhrmann, a filmmaker who nearly reaches the third dimension threshold in his regular 2D presentations and he makes Gatsby essential 3D viewing.
The film was initially set to be released last December, but was pushed back reportedly to reach a broader audience and allow Luhrmann more time to complete the 3D effects. It was worth the wait and if Luhrmann can keep making literary classics this dynamic, I’ve got a sixth grade reading list full of options for him.
I left the screening feeling like I wanted to after Iron Man 3 — anxiously awaiting the next opportunity I can see it again. The Great Gatsby lives up to its title and is recommended viewing for moviegoers seeking a little flash in their films of substance.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10