The greatest American novel gets the lavish Baz Luhrmann treatment this spring in opulent 1920s drama The Great Gatsby.
Aspiring Wall Street banker, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), finds himself in a world of lavish parties and new money when he moves to Long Island’s West Egg and takes up residence next door to the elusive millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). As the consuming passions of Gatsby and cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) draw Carraway further into this luxurious world, despair and pain are never far away.
Luhrmann’s films (Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet) are well known for their bold, highly stylized approach and The Great Gatsby opens with more than a little of the director’s usual flair. Black and white, twenties inspired credits that flicker with the faded quality of an old film, transform into shimmering gold 3D. Quirky scene setting promptly begins with rapid footage of twenties New York accompanied by a heavy, bass powered score.
Carraway’s initial resistance to the twenties party scene is overcome in a burst of vibrant colours, noise and excessive behaviour, brought to life by Luhrmann with a contemporary edge so unexpected it could almost be from a modern teen movie.
It is this atmosphere of excess and careless wealth that Luhrmann’s adaptation cultivates, and on which it thrives. Sets and costumes are exaggerated in true Luhrmann style with detail loaded upon detail to potent effect. Gatsby’s parties see this style taken to extremes, crammed with glitter, booze and jewels, while Gatsby’s exhilarated driving in a yellow open top Rolls Royce oozes glamour. Yet even The Great Gatsby’s more intimate scenes are heady with luxury and details that play into the film’s melodramatic style. Beautifully arranged scenes litter The Great Gatsby, from a rain of silk shirts falling down on Daisy in Gatsby’s bedroom to afternoon tea encircled by exotic flowers.
This is Lurhmann on a much bigger scale than we’ve seen him before, amped up to epic levels. Sweeping shots rapidly take us from up-close action to vast twenties landscapes and the towering mansions of the West Egg, lit nightly by the yellow glow of new electricity. The decision to offer 3D, is almost symbolic of this excessive style: a decision that seems at once unnecessary but is beautifully utilised by Luhrmann.
“A potent, invigorating viewing experience”
Luhrmann’s attention to the excesses of the twenties makes for a potent, invigorating viewing experience and the iconic director demonstrates his clear talent for nurturing atmosphere. As the film nears its crescendo he gives us a claustrophobic scene set against a hot New York summer. Using everything from shots of ice to the sound of electric fans, Luhrmann creates such a powerfully heady atmosphere it’s almost possible to feel the heat in the room.
Accompanied by an irresistible soundtrack filled with bass pumping numbers from executive producer JAY Z and Kanye West, to twenties inspired gems from Emeli Sande and a beautiful, melancholic ballad from Lana Del Rey, The Great Gatsby is given a bold, modern edge.
The emotional gravitas of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is at times squashed under the weight of Luhrmann’s exuberant film-making but DiCaprio’s masterful, vulnerable performance as Gatsby ensures the story’s power is not entirely crushed. Neither does Carey Mulligan’s immense beauty as Daisy overshadow her character’s flaws or emotional weaknesses, with Mulligan giving us an enticing, complicated and troubled character.
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is an intoxicating visual spectacle, yet the emotional quality of the story frequently risks suffocation by the vigorous focus on style. While this greatest of American novels does not require excessive styling to make an impact on viewers, Luhrmann’s adaptation is nonetheless an irresistible piece of cinema.
VERDICT: ✭✭✭✭✩ 4/5
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