Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Baz Luhrmann first came on to the scene with Strictly Ballroom, an Australian comedy-drama set in the world of ballroom dancing. The film was an international hit and demonstrated Luhrmann’s unique approach of fusing melodrama with energetic, colorful visuals and his love for music. Since then he has modernized Shakespeare with Romeo + Juliet, directed a hit musical with Moulin Rouge, and was cheered and booed for his epic love story, Australia.
Now, Luhrmann has decided to tackle The Great Gatsby, a film based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was written way back in 1925. This would be the sixth time the classic novel gets adapted into a film. I’ve never read the novel, so I’m forced to judge this picture on its own merits.
The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), an idealistic young man who moved to New York to pursue work in the bond business. He reconnects with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her cheating husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). He is also befriended by his wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby, a secretive millionaire that has made a name for himself by throwing the most extravagant and lavish parties in town. Things begin to get complicated when Carraway learns that Gatsby is intent on winning back his past love, Daisy Buchanan, and that he may be harboring some very dark secrets.
Right from the get-go, Baz Luhrmann throws us into his hyper-stylized 1920’s New York City. His energetic camera swoops and flies through this computer-generated city – much the way he introduced us to Paris in Moulin Rouge. We meet the many characters that live in this story while the film’s soundtrack pumps away and the stylish visuals border on excess. Yes, unfortunately Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a case of visuals vs. drama.
In all honesty, the film looks absolutely magnificent. The costumes, large sets and CGI all work together beautifully to create some truly attractive sequences. On the big screen everything looks fantastic. Luhrmann and his team’s aim was to make the film look like a beautiful, glossy postcard – and they’ve succeeded. All that said, certain elements in the film’s stylization seems a little out of place when trying to convey the dramatic power that the story contains.
At times it seems as though the film just needs to “relax” and let the drama speak for itself. Instead, there’s an over-reliance on colors, music and quick edits to make you feel. This has a slightly numbing effect. Also, the decision to infuse hip-hop into the film’s soundtrack doesn’t quite seem to gel well either.
The visuals may damage the film’s dramatic pull, but it doesn’t detract from the entertainment factor. The film is quite enjoyable and Luhrmann’s energetic film-making style is infectious. I didn’t actually notice the film’s 142 minute running time.
The performances are fantastic. Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t be better suited to play Jay Gatsby. He perfectly portrays this man’s unraveling. Tobey Maguire holds his own against Leo’s performance and convinces throughout his character’s dramatic arc. Carey Mulligan is fine as Daisy Buchanan and Joel Edgerton embraces his character with strength and gusto.
Overall, The Great Gatsby isn’t amazing, but it is still good. There is no denying the talent on display in front and behind the camera. Baz Luhrmann’s fans will surely embrace the film’s over-the-top visuals and beauty, but I wasn’t convinced that it was needed to this extent. The drama could have been driven home more successfully had the story taken first priority.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10
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