While the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby maintained a tame and grounded atmosphere for the cinematic adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, Baz Luhrmann throws that all out the window to provide what is undoubtedly the definitive theatrical representation of a timeless book. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in purely explosive presentation, overexaggerating to the point of being irrestistably absorbing. If the amazing set pieces and crowded visuals don’t pull you in, the soundtrack and cast will. If there’s anyone who could make Leonardo DiCaprio, 1920’s CGI and Nero (a dubstep artist, for all of you classical music types) work in the same movie, it’s Baz Luhrmann, an exceptional painter on the modern day cinematic canvas.
For everyone not enlightened as to the plot of The Great Gatsby, go read the book, it’s relatively short and definitely an enjoyable read. Otherwise, here’s the briefest summary: Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a rich man with a mysterious past who wants to rekindle a relationship with Daisy Buchanan (Carrie Mulligan), at the cost of fracturing her current life with Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), Daisy’s cousin, serves as a vessel to tell us the whole story, as his character is more of a looking glass than a character in its own right.
The earlier film adaptation(s) of Gatsby have had a more grounded approach and a more realistic perspective on how the tragic events of Jay Gatsby’s life unfolded, but Luhrmann realized this is the 21st century, and grounded just wouldn’t do. So he amped up the presentation to appeal to anyone wanting a truly epic story, one not affected by any of that overly-drab artsy guck that tends to creep its way into these kinds of movies. Calling the party scenes extravagant would be a massive understatement, as they’re unfeasibly hectic: Hundreds of people dancing in a gigantic ballroom with thousands of streamers, balloons and gallons of shampagne pouring onto them, stylized with LOUD colors and complemented by music courtesy of Fergie and Goonrock. It maintains its 1920’s vibe without losing the new-age atmosphere, something only Baz Luhrmann can do (his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is another testament to this). While the parties are the highlights of the film visually, everything else is superb as well. The outskirts of New York are filled to the brim with steel, pavement, quarries and laborers, all in beautifully rendered CGI, giving off an industrial feel that no other movie has yet to achieve. With that said, the presentation is unparalleled by any other movie, and the level of perfection attained by the atmosphere just blew me away.
The acting is wonderful, with DiCaprio taking the title of “The Great Gatsby” as a personal compliment. Everything Fitzgerald wanted Gatsby to be in the novel, a symbol of hope and determination, DiCaprio delivers on-screen. Adversely, Carrie Mulligan’s performance was a little on the shallow side, having an artificial ambiance throughout the whole movie. It seemed like she didn’t believe she was once Gatsby’s lover, because that’s the tone she gave off. Toby Maguire, on the other hand, really surprised me and showed that he can be more than a crying Peter Parker/Spider-Man in his acting career, almost upstaging DiCaprio. Almost. While it’s not really a criticism or compliment to Toby, I can never get over the fact that he only has five or so facial expressions whenever he’s acting, and while they all work for this movie, it just makes me giggle thinking about how awkward some of them are.
On a final note, run out right now and go see The Great Gatsby. Everyone else who’s snubbed or berated this movie is either overly nostalgic to the days before high quality cinematography or is just being a hipster about how new-age the film is. This is definitely a film for Luhrmann fans, Gatsby fans and avid movie goers alike to rejoice over.