Bold, colorful, noisy and thrilling: Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is the hell of an adaptation of the great American classic, just as expected.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hero, the iconic Jay Gatsby comes from nothing and climbs to the top of the social ladder by taking advantage of the unlimited possibilities of the 1920ies. He embodies the American dream, with the glamorous surface and the dark downside altogether. However, the Australian director famous for his extravagant style focused more on the timeless love story in one of the finest works of American literature.
His former Romeo, Leonardo DiCaprio still retains his boyish charm, but already has the seductive masculine power for the role of the mysterious millionaire playboy. Gatsby is delicately handsome and athletic, has a penchant for luxurious vintage muscle cars, elegant suits and fine shirts. Contradicting the stereotype, he doesn’t surround himself with women – he has been in love with one girl for five years.
Daisy (Carey Mulligan), however, did not wait until he returned from the World War and could have provided her the lavish lifestyle she was used to. Instead she married a wealthy man from an influential family, the handsome Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), who soon turned out to be an arrogant womanizer. Gatsby disregards the treason and tries for his life to retrieve his only love. At night, he stands brooding on the pier in front of his castle, reaching his hand out to the dream on the other side of the bay, towards the Buchanan residence, and throws extraordinary opulent parties to attract Daisy’s attention.
The visuals and the soundtrack provide an orgy for the senses, especially if they pour on us in 3D and digital sound quality. Luhrmann and his creative partner, set and costume designer (and wife) Catherine Martin created a luxurious swirl reminiscent of Moulin Rouge. Beyonce, Jay-Z (the soundtrack’s executive producer), Bryan Ferry, Jack White, will.i.am, Florence + the Machine, Lana del Rey and Sia among others perform the at times wildly rumbling, at times lyrically soft soundtrack blended with elements of jazz. The least appealing are the hip-hop tracks, the most memorable is Lana del Rey’s haunting, melodramatic Young and Beautiful song, which will most likely start playing in your head whenever you think of the movie.
DiCaprio has a classical, magnetic radiation similar to Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Edgerton is pleasantly surprising in the role of the not clearly repugnant Tom Buchanan, and Isla Fisher is entertainingly outrageous as Tom’s vulgar mistress. On the other hand, Mulligan’s acting may leave us unaffected and Tobey Maguire – playing the narrator and Gatsby’s only companion – tends to be dull and helplessly stumbling.
The film is yet a memorable, grand creation. Luhrmann meticulously timed the ending, just like in Romeo and Juliet, and the masquerade and the famous aquarium scene also recurs (although through a glass window) in one party scene.
He delivers his usual – perhaps even expected – loud squish of kitsch, but there are some touchingly fine details too. For example, dramatically outstretched, breathtaking scenes reminiscent of golden era Hollywood romances, like the one when the two former lovers glimpse each other for the first time after five years.
Although mesmerizing and monumental, the adaptation fails to engage us emotionally. We are not keeping our fingers crossed for the lonely dreamer to defeat the sea of disillusionment and lecherous nihilism, nor does it break our hearts when Daisy betrays him again. Not sure if this is entirely the film’s fault – our time is just as detached and disillusioned as the one that predestined Gatsby to fail.
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