From the very beginning Baz Luhrmann’s production of The Great Gatsby promises an epic visual spectacle, and because of his unique vision he delivers on a level like no other. That said, if you’re hoping The Great Gatsby lives up to what some deem to be the greatest American novel in history, then don’t bother with Luhrmann’s latest flick. Once you look past the visual spectacle of bombastic sounds and vibrant colors, one is bound to be dissatisfied with the empty structure Luhrmann’s production has left for the viewer to piece together.
The plot to The Great Gatsby is simple and its set up doesn’t deviate from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. The roaring twenties is in full bloom, and our narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) has just moved to New York City during the summer of 1922. Across the way is the elusive war vet known simply as Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a would-be millionaire that throws lavish parties for all. He has the clothes, the best entertainers, and the most decadent in home design. Setting him apart from the world of excess in wealth, once Carraway receives an invite to said party and indulges in Gatsby’s lifestyle; he brings forth an observant role to his surroundings. Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) is in a constricting marriage to old money man Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) but has a past with the mysterious Gatsby that ultimately reveals the millionaire to all parties involved as nothing more than a facade.
The same could be said about Luhrmann’s ultimate vision of The Great Gatsby. By not twisting any concrete plot details to the film, Luhrmann gives off the illusion that he’s done a solid job with directing a true to story adaptation, but it’s misleading. The hyper-glossed visuals oftentimes so excessive, the film looks like it was put through a Gaussian filter for Instagram lovers. While that could impress the millennial generation, all it really does is mask the fact that there’s no bones outside of the basic skeleton Luhrmann has to work with. The moral of the story about how prominent the strife was to capture the American dream is to people of this era completely escapes Luhrmann’s film. Instead his film acts as mental masturbation, by swallowing the story up in an artificial world universally celebrated by the characters. Sure it all looks spectacular but it does nothing to flesh the story out.
When the actors are given something to do most of them succeed. Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect Jay Gatsby, and has one of the best climatic introductions of any film. The build up to his character is certainly climatic, with Carraway narrating the wonder of who Gatsby really is in juxtaposition to the outside perspective of various illusive stereotypes that plague his image. Gatsby is a man who is said to have a smile that has “a quality of eternal reassurance” and as DiCaprio turns around with fireworks exploding behind his frame, you believe it. For DiCaprio, one could easily deduce that there’s something pulling him towards the character. Growing up in the industry and often being portrayed as different versions of himself proves to be a perfect fit for the pedestal Gatsby is perched on. Seeing DiCaprio in the role of the deceiver isn’t something new for him, but in a few select scenes he emotes in ways we haven’t seen from him in a few years. One highlight of the film happens in a hotel room that sees all of the hidden relationships collide in an explosive way that is served by fantastic performances by both Edgerton and DiCaprio.
As far as performers that are essentially wasted, Isla Fisher’s character is completely thrown away and is just used as a plot device. It’s a shame as the actress has proved to be a dynamic personality on screen, and definitely one that could have suited Luhrmann’s world. The lowest of the low goes to Carey Mulligan who takes the role of the superficial, unhappy wife, and drapes herself lifelessly against the lavish sets. She’s all the glitz of Marilyn Monroe without the spark. In most scenes it’s a head scratcher to why Gatsby would go through all the trouble to create such an image for Mulligan’s Daisy.
The cartoonish world created for The Great Gatsby is a perfect fit for Tobey Maguire, who is surprisingly engaging as the narrator. On the flip side, the hip soundtrack used to modernize and offset the film completely distracts one from being truly taken with the world created from the twenties. For instance, when an antique car bumps to Jay-Z’s “H to The Izzo” it gets a huge laugh, but for all the wrong reasons. Its this kind of noncommittal by Luhrmann that makes The Great Gatsby dim in its overall luster.
THE GREAT GATSBY IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW.