Lavish, Lustful Long Island…

The Great Gatsby

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Director:  Baz Luhrmann

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan

The much anticipated glitzy remake of the 1974 film, The Great Gatsby by Australian director, Baz Luhrmann is spectacular to watch, wonderful to marvel at, yet ultimately flawed much like its central character, Jay Gatsby.  Based upon the American classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby published in 1925, chronicling America and specifically New York’s Jazz Age, Prohibition and the excesses of wealth prior to the Great Depression in 1929, Luhrmann expertly captures the era with gorgeous costumes designed by Catherine Martin and supplied by the Italian Luxury Fashion House Prada along with suits by Brooks Brothers, the 21st century film version of Gatsby is brash, excessively long and gorgeous to look at, with fabulous over the top parties, superb music and lots of creative divergence as expected from the director of Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet.

At the centre of the 21st century version of The Great Gatsby are three fine performances and that is the ménage trio of Jay Gatsby, played with a slightly Howard Hawks neurosis by Leonardo di Caprio, (The Aviator, Django Unchained, Romeo and Juliet), the Louisville heiress Daisy Buchanan played with a slight childish melancholy by the ever charming Carey Mulligan (Wall Street 2, Money Never Sleeps) and then her brutish, polo playing husband Tom Buchanan, an outstanding performance by screen newcomer Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom).

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Luhrmann and costume designer Martin do a superb job of luring the audience into a decadent world of the bootlegging roaring 1920’s New York with the lavish excessive parties, the ensuing deviance that prohibition encouraged and naturally the modern jazz age. The film is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, Daisy’s cousin and neighbour to the initially enigmatic Gatsby, played with the usual awe and wonder of Tobey Maguire, of the original Spiderman Trilogy, who facilitates a meeting between Daisy and Gatsby over tea in one of the film’s more memorable scenes with flowers and decadent cakes at his Long Island cottage.

The Long Island-Manhattan social scene becomes more intricate as Tom’s mistress Myrtle wonderfully played by Isla Fisher and first introduced at in a raucous party at a Manhattan apartment hinting at the excesses which the sexually ambivalent Nick Carraway is seduced by both in terms of drugs, alcohol and loose morals, yet it is really Carraway’s enchantment with Gatsby himself which really plays into the subtext of such a fascinating portrait of lust and decadence, that eventually leads him to later write the story of the huge influence Gatsby had on his now destroyed life. As Carraway is drawn into the opulent world of the super-rich and of the myriad possibilities, betrayals and affairs that this affluent society leads him to witness, it is Gatsby himself who leaves Carraway with an impressionable dream of “You can do anything if you set your mind to it”.

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Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is flawed and uneven, especially noticeable in the second half of the film as he goes beyond the spectacle of the age and grapples with the deceit and lies that his main characters are capable of. The infamous scene at the Plaza Hotel, where all is revealed is really expertly played by Joel Edgerton as the jilted yet scheming playboy husband, who treats all his possessions including his lovely wife with a sort of contemptible jealousy. Luhrmann’s directorial trademarks are evident in The Great Gatsby, but not nearly as tightly pulled together as his brilliant Moulin Rouge which saw stunning performances by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, yet he still manages to recreate The Great Gatsby in a style any other film director could not have imagined.

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The Great Gatsby is recommended for the fantastic costumes and sumptuous production design, but not where literary traditionalists are concerned, the film is clearly aiming at a much younger glitzier and more diverse audience, notably succeeding in its lavish portrayal of excess. The only criticism is that more editing was required to cut The Great Gatsby into a perfect diamond and not as a sparkling flawed gem.  The film is a celebrated depiction and inventive homage to the Jazz Age, without much substance, but loads of style. Personally I would like to see Luhrmann tackle the rather more brilliant novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night, but that would see the director venturing too deeply into the complexity of human relationships without the added glamour.

Recommended for lovers of Gershwin music and for an aesthetic appreciation, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is sure to divide and impress audiences simultaneously, much like he did with revisionist adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in 1997. Also starring Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfsheim.

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