One of the first thoughts going into this movie was that even if it’s bad, at least the directing and grandeur of the film would be visually worthwhile. And that it was. Baz Luhrmann has a gift. No matter the story or the length of every film he’s ever directed, Luhrmann brings class and elegance to his films. A shiny present wrapped in brightly colored paper, ready to be opened.
This time around Luhrmann is tackling the classic American novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a writer who becomes swept up in the money business on Wall Street a few years before the famous stock market crash of 1929. It’s the time period after World War I and Prohibition is in full swing. Although, we all know that even Prohibition couldn’t prevent people from getting the booze someway or other.
Carraway settles in and acquires a new home across the water from his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) She’s married to the socially elite Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) whose actions on the side lead to a lot of the events in the latter part of the film. Carraway’s neighbor is the ever mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a millionaire who throws extravagant parties and seems to hide in the shadows of his own wealth, until he invites Carraway to one of his parties and things begin to unravel.
The story of Jay Gatsby is simplistic yet layered with social statements about class and the hopes and dreams of a penniless man who built his own wealth and connections. It demonizes the already wealthy and their carelessness for everything except retaining their social status. Gatsby is painted as a dreamer and hopeless romantic who wishes to bring together his love for Daisy all while climbing the social ladder. DiCaprio portrays Gatsby as a humble yet confident man and there are plenty of little nuances which make the audience feel for his character. One of the best scenes in the film is the meeting of Daisy and Gatsby. The nervousness and almost panic with which DiCaprio exudes in that scene alone leaves you feeling for his character more so than any other in the film. Why? Because all the other characters are miserable and unhappy with their lives but are too cowardly to escape the vault of money they’ve locked themselves in.
Luhrmann doesn’t stray too far from the source material but adds his own touch. The way the film slides in and out of scenes is beautifully done. The sets, the costumes, and attention to detail are wonderful. “The Great Gatsby” feels like it jetted from the 1920’s right into the 21st century with its mixture of old and new. The movie practically oozes old Hollywood glamour and you can almost imagine that this is what a highly rich socialite party must have been like back then.
The entire cast is fantastic. From Joel Edgerton’s snobbish and holier than thou portrayal of Buchanan to Tobey Maguire’s performance as the astounded writer Carraway, everyone brought life to their characters and made them uniquely distinct.
“Mr. Gatsby, you can’t repeat the past,” Carraway says. Why yes, yes he can. Or he can at least try. What Luhrmann has essentially done is taken Gatsby and turned him into the average Joe who wants more out of life than to only be a farmer. He’s the man who works hard and strives to get to the top of the ladder only to find that there are a few rungs missing and there’s always someone at the top knocking him back down a few steps. But he can still see the top of the ladder and all his hopes and dreams along with it. Luhrmann depicts the average striving and hopeful human being in Gatsby.
Luhrmann does tend to go a little overboard when it comes to pacing the story. Sometimes it does feel a little slow given the film’s two hour plus running time. But unlike Luhrmann’s “Australia,” “The Great Gatsby” doesn’t get particularly tiresome or boring. Certain slow motion events and flashbacks to things which happened a half hour previously are a little unnecessary but not overall hindering to the film.
“The Great Gatsby” is a visually stunning movie where the glitz and glamour of his sets and costumes fit in with the time period and story being told. The acting and writing are superb and what would be considered cheesy and clichéd lines are swept under the rug because of the cast’s talent to make them sound grand and somber at the same time. “The Great Gatsby” is a wonderful ode to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved novel and a character who sacrificed everything in order to build a better life for himself.