Baz Luhrmann returns to familiar territory of star-crossed lovers and this time the landscape shifts to 1920s New York. Reuniting with his Romeo Leonardo as The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann tries to breathe fresh life into this great american novel which I unfortunately have never read. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Tobey Maguire as Nick, Joel Edgerton as Tom, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and an almost unrecognizable Isla Fisher as Myrtle.
Not being familiar with F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel I went in knowing only that it was set in the 1920s era of debauchery, that it was about two star crossed lovers and that it was in the voice of Nick Caraway and in this case Tobey Maguire (and that thought made me squeamish because I am not the biggest Maguire fan). But I happen to love Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice in movies and Carey Mulligan in my opinion is one of the best underrated actresses working today.
There are a lot of era-specific references with the Wall Street boom, the end of the prohibition, loose morals, the plight of the working class and the excesses of the rich. Fitzgerald’s story seems to have influenced many writers and stories to have come afterwards and since this was the first time I was seeing Gatsby I immediately thought of Don Draper when Gatsby’s roots are revealed.
Luhrmann is known for his over-the-top style when it comes to set decorations, choice of music and even the camera angles he chooses, these choices render some of the story elements coming across as jerky and incoherent. The first party which Tom whisks Nick away to is a fine example of the Luhrmann excess. Garish red interiors to a saxophone player on the fire escape to signature zooming in of the camera. The point of the scene was lost on me until the point when Maguire starts’ mouthing what I assume is the prose from the novel verbatim. While I marveled at the beauty of the prose and am compelled to pick up the novel for a read I have to dock a point from Luhrmann as it is a clear sign of weakness that he has to rely on the exact prose to convey the story.
The movie takes off after the second party with the introduction to Gatsby, with the fireworks in the background and a grand symphony to herald the on-screen reveal of DiCaprio as Gatsby. DiCaprio is an actor who doesn’t cease to surprise, he could just as easily have caved into what is Luhrmann’s over the top style and played Gatsby as the self-assured suave nouveau riche gentleman but what DiCaprio does is infuse a sense of earnestness and honesty to the character that is absolutely endearing. You see the cracks beneath the veneer and you see Gatsby second guessing and enquiring in the most earnest way if the party is to everyone’s liking but then again you are left second guessing yourself if this is a man who is so sure in his ways that this candor and modesty is an act to make the guest feel welcome. DiCaprio’s performance is enough to convey the eternal hopefulness that he lives by dreaming that Daisy will be his , it is not required for Maguire to tell us that “he is the most hopeful man I’ve ever come across”. I could sit here and extoll what a wonderful job DiCaprio does here and how he is reason enough to see the movie but then that would take up a lot more words than I intend to write for the review. Just take my word for it- he is the warmth of Jack (titanic), the paranoia of Howard(aviator) and the slightly unhinged Teddy (Shutter Island) all rolled into one fine package and he looks better than ever in a finely cut suit. And that scene at Nick’s place where Gatsby comes over for tea with Daisy is so awkward and charismatic that you are instantly on team-gatsby and willing for him to win daisy over.
Of the other cast Carey Mulligan is sufficiently coquettish and breathes life into the character of daisy which could have just as easily become a despicable character given her ambiguous overtures towards Gatsby and the eventual fateful climax. Tobey Maguire is annoying but not for all the usualy reasons I find him annoying – he is annoying because of Luhmann’s incompetencies he makes Tobey the medium through which major passages from the novel are spoon fed to the audience. Outside of that he is alright. Joel Edgerton has a caricature of a character to portray and he does so well but isn’t given a lot of room to grow. Elizabeth Debicki surprised me the most in the short amount of time she is allowed on screen as Jordan baker. Not only is she a statuesque beauty who commands screen presence like the leading ladies of the yesteryears but her almost wry confidence is very intriguing and she was the one character I wanted to know more about . Amitabh Bachchan makes a Hollywood debut that should have happened sooner considering his talent, here as the oily creepy jewish mobster Meyer Wolfsheim is effective in the very brief screen time, but sufficient to prove that he has a better accent than his daughter in law. I wish he gets a meatier role courtesy of The Great Gatsby.
With Gatsby Lurhmann’s tried to recreate the 1920s via the production design and the costumes and most of it checks all the boxes. Catherine martin is sure to be one of the names at the top of the list come award season for her work on both the costumes and production design. With Shawn Carter a.k.a. Jay Z acting as producer and also musical contributor introduces one hell of an OST that will also feature a few contenders. In my opinion the top three songs are Lana Del Ray’s “Young and beautiful”, Jack White’s “Love is blindness” and Florence Welsh’s “Over the love” . I could and have listened to LDR’s young and beautiful on a loop.
While not perfect The Great Gatsby is perfectly satisfying because of the hopeful earnestness of Leonardo DiCaprio. He is the hero you cheer for till the very end , when he looks up from the swimming pool as the phone rings hoping that it is daisy calling. Watch this great american novel come to life courtsey one of the greatest working actor today watch The Great Gatsby for Leonardo DiCaprio.