The Great Gatsby
Director: Baz Luhrmann.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke.
F. SCOTT Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is generally regarded as a serious contender for the title of "best book ever".
Unsurprisingly the story has been filmed repeatedly, with Aussie director Baz Luhrmann the sixth director to have a go at the story of the elusive Jay Gatsby, his lost love Daisy, and the glittering American dream of the 1920s.
Luhrmann is perhaps the most distinctive filmmaker to tackle the novel and it was the prospect of his flair for the razzle dazzle that made his adaptation an intriguing proposition.
However, Baz's kinetic camera movements and stylistic tics are both the best and worst thing about this take on The Great Gatsby.
Told from the point of view of hapless bystander Nick Carraway (Maguire), it focuses on his enigmatic neighbour Jay Gatsby, whose palatial mansion regularly holds enormously decadent parties, despite the host remaining some what of a mystery to his hundreds of often-uninvited guests.
As Nick comes to know his fabled neighbour, he learns of Gatsby's connection to Nick's cousin Daisy, who is married to the rich philanderer Tom Buchanan, and Nick is slowly drawn into an intriguing web of lies and love.
Initially, the film is annoying. Luhrmann's over-the-top shots and hyperactive editing are distracting, while the framing device of Nick narrating (and later writing) the story from a sanitarium is awkward.
Having said that, Luhrmann's cinematic panache is pitch perfect for Gatsby's parties. Mixing his camera moves, an anachronistic soundtrack, and the mercurial set designs and costumes of his Oscar-winning wife Catherine Martin, this adaptation captures the booze-soaked decadence and orgiastic excess brilliantly.
Outside of Gatsy's parties, Baz's tics and tricks (such as words appearing on the screen, fast edits, or his flat-chat runs through the New York landscapes) are distractions. The film works best when Luhrmann gets out of the way and lets F. Scott Fitzgerald's story and the talented cast do the heavy lifting.
In DiCaprio, Luhrmann not only had his perfect Romeo but now an indeed great Gatsby. DiCaprio is excellent, combining the necessary "old sport" affability, the tortured soul, the idealistic naivety and air of mystique. Could this finally be the role that snags him a much-deserved Oscar? His performance here is certainly worthy.
Mulligan is also good, as is Maguire, but Edgerton is the sneaky scene-stealer as the brash and bullish Tom Buchanan.
Another positive is the soundtrack which is great - the non-era hip hop and electro slip in effortlessly - and Luhrmann's love of the text, its heavy symbolism, and its weighty themes is obvious.
Far less effective is Luhrmann's extensive reliance on greenscreening and CG work. It looks terrible. If it's meant to demonstrate the falsehoods swimming around some of the characters, mission accomplished. But generally it's just rubbish and there must have been other ways of demonstrating the fakeness of the society in which the characters live that didn't look like total crap.
This adaptation goes so close to being definitive in places, but is frequently annoying, particularly in the first act.
Like Gatsby himself, it comes so close to achieving its dream, only to fall agonisingly and frustratingly short.
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