A Great Gatsby!
"The Great Gatsby" is writer/director Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mr. Luhrmann seems to have taken the advice administered by Howard Hawks to John Huston when Mr. Huston was attempting the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s "The Maltese Falcon," of which the first two films were duds. Just film the book was, in essence, what Mr. Hawks had said and it is what Mr. Luhrmann has done with "The Great Gatsby." This collaboration is a wonderful marriage as Mr. Luhrmann’s ability to tell a story with enticing visuals translates well Fitzgerald’s picturesque sentences.
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) narrates the film from a sanatorium while he recovers from a hangover brought on by the roaring twenties. Mr. Maguire still holds on to a boyish quality in his facial features that works well at presenting Nick as an innocent in the devious world of money. We take a ride with Nick through the exciting world of the privileged but watch as Nick grows disenchanted when the glamour peels away and the callousness is revealed. Nick recalls the summer he moved from the mid West to Long Island renting a small house wedged in between mansions of money. Across the bay lives his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) who is wealthy from his inheritance. In the mansion next door lives the elusive and mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). The event for the money sect every summer is Gatsby’s parties which are extravagant even by their standards. What makes them provocative is that no one has ever seen their host. Gatsby is a mystery and somewhat of a legend since he doesn’t make himself accessible to anyone. People have come to their own conclusions about him which embellishes the legend.
One day Nick finds an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties which may be linked to a condition since no one has ever received one before. Gatsby makes his acquaintance and Nick learns that Gatsby’s existence has been focused on rekindling his love for Daisy of whom he had an affair many years before. Gatsby recruits Nick to reintroduce him to Daisy and Nick agrees believing that Tom’s philandering is proof of a rotting marriage. Daisy and Gatsby are reunited and their love blooms but all they have collected in their lives during their absence is also present and shaped them into different people. This reunion is more complicated than when they first met.
Mr. DiCaprio, with his movie star status, can stand still and be Jay Gatsby for both have money, power and mystery. But Mr. DiCaprio, just as Mr. Maguire, has boyish features in his face that the lines of experience have been powerless to evict. It is a hindrance when Mr. DiCaprio has to portray men who have to look danger in the eye (e.g. "Gangs of New York," "The Aviator," "Blood Diamond") but in "The Great Gatsby" it fits the character rather nicely. When Nick first meets Gatsby, Gatsby’s a free-wheeling millionaire playboy. When Gatsby reveals his desire for Daisy Mr. DiCaprio turns him into a young school boy going on his first date. Gatsby glows with love when he is finally reunited with her. But when that love is threatened we can see a dark transformation come over Gatsby. It is a wonderful performance by Mr. DiCaprio, from being the loving, long lost love of Daisy Buchanan to a disillusioned loner.
Mr. Luhrmann has surrounded Mr. DiCaprio with a cast that could fit into anyone’s ideal image of the characters they have conjured up while reading the novel. Ms. Mulligan is Daisy. She is a young woman whose only hobby is to milk the days away in leisure while giving Tom the occasional headache whenever his mistresses invade her space. That is the extent of her life until Gatsby re-enters it. Ms. Mulligan bounces about in giddy excitement from once again being able to taste young love. But there is a limit that Daisy’s intellect and courage can handle. Faced with a choice that could release her from her serenity her lack of fearlessness keeps her anchored. Ms. Mulligan has the charm and the radiance of life that makes Daisy lovable but when the heat turns up the actress shows us the iceberg that makes up her soul. As Tom, Mr. Edgerton gives the least developed character some spice. Doing his best Richard Burton impression Mr. Edgerton intensifies the heart rate of the scenes he’s in and turns a cad credible when he competes for Daisy’s loyalty with Gatsby.
This fine enactment of "The Great Gatsby" is done on a colorful canvas that Mr. Luhrmann has painted. In all of Mr. Luhrmann’s movies, and this one is no exception, he flexes every muscle in the canon of filmmaking. From rich color palates to camera movements to new arraignments of contemporary pop songs to imaginative production designs there is no mistaking that one is watching a movie extravaganza and that is not a negative. Mr. Luhrmann who is gifted with an imaginative visual style uses Fitzgerald’s visual prose as a blueprint from the breeze filled curtains during Daisy’s introduction to the menacing eyes in the expired ophthalmologist advertisement on a decrepit billboard. The making of this movie in three dimensions is another toy you can feel Mr. Luhrmann enjoyed playing with.
But the joy Mr. Luhrmann had from making "The Great Gatsby" can be felt through the story that explores familiar territory for the filmmaker ("Romeo + Juliet", "Moulin Rouge!"). That is a protagonist who goes after love but once they obtain it find that it is too slippery an object to hold on to. Mr. Luhrmann is still unable to find a character who can capture love and we are better off for it.