In the 1920s, stockbroker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves into a small house next door to the mysterious and enigmatic Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). It is not long before Carraway is invited to one of Gatsby’s expansive and opulent parties, and learns a shocking secret about his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Mr Gatsby himself.
There has been much talk about Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, not least because – rather fittingly – the film opened the 66th Cannes Film Festival earlier this week (The book was written in the region, dontcha know!) Luhrmann is known for his slightly manic, visually stunning films about doomed love, and Gatsby is no different, although at times, the film feels like a Luhrmann copycat, rather than a film by the director who brought us Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. We won’t talk about Australia…
Leonardo DiCaprio has rarely been better as the tormented but hopeful Gatsby. DiCaprio swings between wild bouts of hope and crushing despair and everything in between, while making the audience utterly believe in him. Tobey Maguire’s wide-eyed innocence is perfect for Nick Carraway, a man whose beliefs are challenged even as they are expanded. Carey Mulligan rounds out the main trio and, while she certainly looks fantastic in the film, she comes off as a little vapid and uninteresting, making it hard for the audience to believe that this is a woman who has driven a man to great heights and lows. The chemistry between the leading couple is sadly lacking also, meaning the love scenes lose some of their fizz.
The story is one that would naturally draw a filmmaker like Luhrmann to it; doomed and tragic love played out in an opulent and chaotic time. However, the problems begin to rear their head in the length of the film. F. Scott Fitzgerald knew that in order to make his book as impactive as possible, it had to be short and sharp. The same cannot be said for Luhrmann’s film. At 120 minutes, the film is about 30 minutes too long and, while we are happy to bathe in the beauty of the film, sometimes it is easy to forget what we are watching.
Ah yes, the visuals. Although many of us were expecting Moulin Rouge in the ‘20s with The Great Gatsby, the party scenes do not compare with those of Luhrmann’s earlier film. That said, however, our first introduction to the titular character is wonderfully timed with music and visual clues, and is enough to send shivers down the spine. The words Carraway writes flow on and off screen in a delightful manner, but all of Luhrmann’s earlier visual cues are sadly absent, leaving the sparkling parties feeling a little flat.
As to why the film is in 3D, it is hard to tell. The opening and closing credits are things of beauty, but the rest of the film does not benefit from the technology. In fact, as has been complained of before and often, the 3D seems to create a barrier between the story and the audience, leaving us feeling disconnected from the story, rather than swept along with us. This leaves us rather like Gatsby himself; gazing down on the wonder below but never really part of it. Perhaps this was a conscious choice by Luhrmann.
In all, The Great Gatsby benefits from stunning visuals, a stellar soundtrack and an outstanding performance from DiCaprio, but is let down by distracting 3D, a vapid performance from Mulligan and an overlong running time. This Gatsby could have been great, but instead is only slightly more than average.