Few would consider Baz Luhrman an ideal candidate to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece back to the screen, but while his adaptation remains as lurid and bombastic as his previous work, it’s also incredibly entertaining.
As New York boomed in the 1920s, Old Money came together with New Money in a parade of decadent excess, and the most outrageous parties were those held by the mysterious Gatsby. Leonardo Di Caprio was seemingly born to play Gatsby, the generous yet reclusive millionaire who befriends young bank clerk Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who lives at the bottom of his garden. It is through Nick’s eyes that we see the story unfold, which becomes increasingly complicated once Gatsby is introduced to his beautiful, yet achingly superficial cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).
Luhrman accentuates their hedonistic world of fast cars and free-flowing champagne in typically outrageous fashion, with swooping camerawork, ridiculously glamorous set design and a pounding anachronistic soundtrack, produced by rap icon Jay-Z. While this aesthetic makes for a sickeningly seductive visual experience, the narrative at its core ultimately wins out.
There is little room for subtlety in Luhrman’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby, but nevertheless he embraces the film’s central love story with heartbreaking enthusiasm. The result is a film perhaps a little too in love with its morally reprehensible characters, but as Luhrman previously accomplished with Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, this new version of The Great Gatsby will inspire a new generation to seek out what is arguably America’s greatest work of fiction.
This review first appeared in Cathay Pacific’s Discovery Magazine, September 2013