The Great Gatsby
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire & Carey Mulligan
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
PG-13, 142 min.
Hollywood keeps returning to author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American-Lit masterpiece of Roaring Twenties excess, undying love and a mystery man named Gatsby, and for good reason. It’s a juicy tale with social, dramatic and emotional fruits that remain just as ripe as when the story first hit the page in 1925.
Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s lavish new version stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, the self-made New Yorker of formidable but secretive wealth whose single-minded obsession with an old flame, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), continues to drive his opulent lifestyle.
Joel Eggerton is a standout as Daisy’s philandering, bullish husband, Tom, who’s got a married mistress (Isla Fisher) on the poor side of town who’s keeping her own jealous husband (Jason Clarke) in the dark.
The story is told through the narration of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), the young stockbroker renting a small cottage next door to Gatsby’s towering mansion. Through a twist of fate, Nick becomes the reclusive millionaire’s friend and confidant---and the eyes, ears, heart and soul of the tangled tale that unfolds.
Subtlety isn’t really the strong suit for Luhrmann, whose previous credits include the sumptuous “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) and a hipster remake of “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) that also starred DiCaprio. His vision of Gatsby’s world is a dizzy, almost discombobulating swirl of explosive, excessive partying, with balloons soaring, confetti flying, dames on trapezes swinging, music blaring, champagne flowing and dancers hoofing. In 3D, the revelry almost seems to be pouring into your lap. These Roaring Twenties really did roar---and you can bet the mornings after did.
The first third of the film really front-loads the eye-popping effects that stress the go-go decadence of the era, a cornucopia of loose morals and other readily available vice into which Nick falls during that fateful summer. A hotel-room party with Tom and some flappers is filmed as such an intoxicating, slow-motion, sensory overload you might think you’re in a pad of ’60 hippies head-tripping on acid.
Even though the story never veers from its 1920s setting, the movie further plays with its sense of time by tweaking the soundtrack with contemporary songs by rock and hip-hop artists including Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Jack White, Fergie and will.i.am.
“Gatsby” purists may bristle over the modernist touches, and about how the new movie’s framing device---having narrator Nick relate the tale from a sanatorium, where his physician has encouraged him to write it down to overcome his depression at watching Gatsby’s world crumble---wasn’t anywhere in the book.
But the story’s themes---about the dark, seductive underbelly of the American dream, about a certain class of people in a certain place at a certain time with the means to live the high life beyond the dismal “valley of the ashes,” and about a tragic chain of events that begins when one man can finally hold, again, the “precious thing” he’s been straining for so long to reach---remain very much intact.
And for sheer spectacle, to drop Gatsby’s favorite expression, this fancy, flamboyantly embellished version of that familiar tale is quite the show, old sport!