‘Can’t repeat the past?’ Gatsby cries incredulously. ‘Why, of course you can!’ Quite fitting, then, that Romeo + Juliet director Baz Luhrmann should get the green light to reprise this literary adaptation of one of the Great American novels.
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the same name, The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway (Maguire) a bond salesman who, in his ‘younger and more vulnerable years’ encounters the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). A Trimalchio of the Roaring Twenties, very little is known about Gatsby, except his flair for throwing outrageous parties for a New York infatuated with conspicuous consumption.
More of a metaphor than a man, Gatsby’s American dream is reuniting with his lost love Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), and Leonardo’s performance is exquisite, revealing all his quixotic passions and frailties with extraordinary tenderness. This is an entirely different Gatsby to Robert Redford in the 1974 film, but a truly great Gatsby nevertheless.
Credit where credit is due, Tobey Maguire embodies the modest narrator perfectly, rarely overplaying his role as Nick. A wallflower of sorts, he delivers Fitzgerald’s gorgeous prose so gently, you can’t help but hope for an unabridged audiobook. Stephen Fry, eat your heart out.
This is quintessential Baz Luhrmann; totally theatrical and often cartoonish, a circus of extravagance. But like the inhabitants of Long Island, however, these aesthetic beauties are meretricious. That is to say, wholly superficial. Just as Gatsby creates these glamorous parties as a self-constructed illusion, some may argue Luhrmann similarly constructs this dazzling dreamscape to masquerade the omnipresent sense of apathy. And rightly so. Quite frankly, it’s just difficult to care about the careless.
With an intriguing soundtrack to say the least, Gatsby features an amalgamation of artists ranging from Emeli Sandé to Jay-Z. Certain tracks like Jack White’s cover of ‘Love Is Blindness’ feel needlessly implemented for the sake of a montage, while others, such as Lana Del Rey’s stunning ‘Young and Beautiful,’ echo hauntingly throughout the film. An achingly beautiful piece worthy of the Jazz Age.
The literary pedantic who regard the novel as sacrosanct will inevitably be left exasperated with the new framing device and numerous narrative reinventions. Not to mention the proverbial clown car of miscast supporting characters (here’s looking at you, Isla Fisher) and a rather uninspired portrayal of Daisy by the otherwise brilliant Carey Mulligan. Fundamentally, if you hold as much hope in your heart as Gatsby, you’re bound to be disappointed. It’s good, but it’s not great.
Under the unblinking eyes of those unfamiliar with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, this is a vibrant spectacle, and a timeless story of hope, perhaps best described as an unintelligent work of art, borne back ceaselessly into the past.