THE GREAT GATSBY
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenwriters: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Leonardo Di Caprio
Runtime: 142 mins
Australian release date: 30 May 2013
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, Sydney, on 27 May 2013
When Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom was screened in the open-air plaza at Locarno Film Festival in 1992, those in the audience felt a ripple of excitement course through the crowd. Here was a refreshingly off-beat approach to film-making, in which the director was prepared to take risks and take his audience on a rollercoaster ride. In his subsequent films, Luhrmann’s cart has only spun off the rails once (with Australia), so it was with great anticipation that many movie-goers waited to see his adaption of a novel that is ranked among the great works of American literature - The Great Gatsby. And, once again, he has managed to take us on one of his crazy rides, this time into the decadent excesses of the Jazz Age.
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous novel, Luhrmann’s and Craig Pearce’s screenplay has retained the thread of the story with an elaborate vision that is perfectly enhanced by Catherine Martin’s fabulous costumes and production design. From the glorious opening titles to the closing credits, there is not a moment in this 3D extravaganza where you can take your eyes off the screen. Perhaps this is the only downfall of the film, as it is so elaborate you can’t quite take it all in at once. Maybe like Moulin Rouge, it requires a second viewing further down the track.
Set in the summer of 1922, in a fictitious place called West Egg, on Long Island, NY, the millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio), stares across the water from his fabulous mansion to East Egg, where the object of his desire resides in the form of Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Jay’s next-door neighbour, likeable Yale graduate Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is an “old sport” who Jay met when they were in the army in World War I and who just happens to be Daisy’s cousin. Jay manages to coerce Nick to set up a meeting with Daisy and he sets out to win her heart… again, as it turns out. However, as in all good tales, life wasn’t meant to be easy; even Jay’s enormous wealth and fabulous parties may not be enough to make Daisy flee her current lavish life-style with her philandering husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
This is a cautionary tale indeed as the story becomes more involved and the intensity increases, aided by Craig Armstrong’s and Jay-Z’s impressive soundtrack and Simon Duggan’s equally impressive, albeit frenetic cinematography. The two leads, DiCaprio and Mulligan, are perfectly pitched, so it is easy to believe in their passionate relationship. They are backed up by a very strong cast of mainly Aussie actors, in both major and minor roles, which includes the aforementioned Edgerton, Home and Away alumnus Isla Fisher, VCA graduate, new-comer Elizabeth Debicki, the new boy in Hollywood Jason Clarke; and veteran Bill Young as a copper who, in one line, manages to give a whole new reading of the word “blue.” Mention must be made, too, of the fine performance given by the great Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, as one of Jay’s less savoury business associates, Meyer Wolfsheim.
The question needs to be asked, “Where does Luhrmann go from here?” Having opened the Cannes Film Festival this year and divided the critics with The Great Gatsby, one can only hope that he has another idea on the boil that will be just as contentious. Let’s face it, not many directors out there can utterly transport you into a visual fantasy for 142 minutes. This Jazz Age extravaganza makes one’s life at home seem very distant and that’s gotta be worth this trip to the cinema.