Baz Luhrmann takes on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, telling the story of mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio) as seen through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a would-be writer and reluctant stockbroker. Nick becomes embroiled in Gatsby’s world – a non-stop party fuelled by illicit alcohol and empty pleasures. In New York Nick is reunited with cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), snobbish products of old money. Their carefree lives are threatened by the power of nostalgia tinted love.
It seems like there’s nothing missing in the film. There’s the look of a New York under construction, the outrageous parties, even some of Fitzgerald’s actual words which literally appear on the screen. But it’s not enough. As compelling as Di Caprio might have been, he is simply not the Gatsby that anyone who has read the book would recognise. He’s a boy rather than a man.
The millions of dollars spent on the CGI creation of the city landscape leave it looking surreal, disconnecting the viewer from that world. Every time the Jay-Z produced soundtrack plays over images of flapper girls flapping it feels like a music video. Luhrmann’s choice of music seems misjudged when compared to his clever use of songs in Moulin Rouge.
Despite this there are some nice moments. Isla Fisher is captivating as Tom’s Mistress Myrtle and Carey Mulligan does well enough within the limitations of the script. The use of old fashioned cinematic techniques, like a spinning newspaper creating a nostalgic newsflash. The party scenes manage to emulate the reckless abandon of the lost generation, but the film left me with a feeling of a lost opportunity. The book is a brief but beautiful depiction of those times written from the heart, qualities that the film lacks. If you want to know The Great Gatsby, read the book.
Buy it here.