It’s been just over 20 years since Baz Luhrmann swished his way into the film industry with the ultra-camp Strictly Ballroom. Since then he has only directed three films – the exciting Romeo and Juliet, the manic and colourful Moulin Rouge, and the very forgettable Australia.
Baz has now returned with his controversial version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, The Great Gatsby.
What’s important with this particular adaptation is not the story itself (although it is a good story), but how Baz goes about his own unique way of interpreting the classic. I’m sure there will be many who will be angry with this adaptation of the American Literary classic, while others will be enchanted. In a nutshell it’s a tragic romantic triangle told from the point of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, who’s essentially playing the Ewan McGregor character from Moulin Rouge). He’s the cousin of Daisy, who is the married love interest of Gatsby.
As I expected from seeing Moulin Rouge, the first 40 minutes is an overload of audio and visual stimulation, bordering on excessive at times. The movie is often overpowering, with edgy scenes that jump along erratically. There’s also plenty of overly familiar sweeping camerawork zooming in on windows from far away locations.
Within those first 40 minutes we are introduced to all the characters and given subtle glimpses of the elusive Gatsby, all set against the backdrop of modern interpretations of jazz from the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Emilie Sande and Lana Del Rey. Then the decadent parties start, filled with excessive alcohol, flapper girls, fireworks and stunning costumes aplenty. The roaring twenties are brought to life Baz Luhrmanm style, which is very reminiscent of his party scenes in Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, but with a bigger budget. To be honest, at this stage I was beginning to feel that Luhrmann is a one trick pony.
However if you stick with the film and take away the Jazzmatazz, we are gradually introduced to a glorious and beautiful looking film, which looks well worth the 100+ million dollar budget. Every character is treated as a thing of beauty, none more than Carey Mulligan (Daisy) and the smouldering and charismatic DiCaprio as Gatsby. His mysterious layers are slowly peeled away to reveal the very human man behind the huge wealth and obsession.
Overall Verdict: The film is a visual treat (reminiscent of Dick Tracy at times, especially the car chases), the casting is pretty solid – especially DiCaprio – and the film could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t ensured it offered heart and story under the visual spectacle. Expect it to pick up a couple of Oscars, certainly in the costume and art direction department. That said this is a film that will strongly divide opinion.
Reviewer: Stephen Sclater