***THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE FOR THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS ON MAY 16TH, 2013***
Director: Baz Luhrmann.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke.
Running Time: 142 minutes.
Synopsis: Yale graduate Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves next door to the mansion of a mysterious millionaire renowned for his lavish parties. Spending time in Long Island brings him closer to cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), but other eyes are watching Daisy from afar.
The fictional Long Island setting of West Egg plays host to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age tale of the price of obsession. The roaring twenties are a paradoxical time of cheap alcohol and family pride, with the constant debauchery a platform for temptation. Luhrmann sure wants us to enjoy the party, but it’s only when the revelry is over that his adaptation becomes any fun.
Not afraid of large-scale, colourful visual assaults, GATSBY’s first half lets Luhrmann luxuriate in, well, Luhrmann, while his odd caricature socialites jar against Carraway’s naturalistic narration. Indulged in for too long, the millionaire’s parties never push it to ROMEO + JULIET levels of extravagance, even if many of the partygoers appear to be drawn straight from 2001’s MOULIN ROUGE.
Originally slated for release last Christmas, the reworking of the film’s soundtrack proves distracting when placed over the lip-sync of previous musical plans – something the actors also criminally suffer from due to the first half’s dizzy editing. Executive producer Jay-Z’s modern-day, musical anachronisms are never fully committed to, leaving the film an odd mix of old and new, but the heavy beats are definitely not missed when replaced by Craig Armstrong’s transcendent orchestrations.
Though it’s a rocky road to the second half, once the middle hits, GATSBY transforms into a sublime and soaring masterpiece that owes a lot to Joel Edgerton, notably in a claustrophobic hotel scene that threatens to see him steal the show. The exclusive, cold parties that saw Nick’s first flirtation with the upper echelons of society were a dreamlike charade; a stark contrast to the real-life issues our narrator suddenly finds himself at the heart of. By choosing to hold us at an uncomfortable distance during his flamboyant opening, once Luhrmann pulls the expensive rug from underneath Nick and the audience, the only way is down – and it’s one hell of a ride.
War hero, assassin, or cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm, those who flit through Jay Gatsby’s opulent home are only aware of the myth behind the man. Flawless and never better, DiCaprio is perfectly cast, snapping effortlessly from sensational to burdened. From his introductory winsome smile to the deconstruction of the ideal man, his true identity is a mystery, but he is most deserving of an audience’s empathy.
He may have more money than he can dream of, but Jay doesn’t have love. The long-term object of his desires, Mulligan is fun and adorable but never truly makes a dent as Daisy when time is spent partying instead of getting to know her. Maguire’s Carraway fares far better, afforded the arc of starry-eyed spectator to tragic storyteller a la MOULIN ROUGE’s Christian. Serving as a third wheel to his cousin Daisy’s escapades for the most part allows for humorous repartee between him and DiCaprio, notably when Jay fills his house to the brim with flowers. A questionably subjective narrator, Luhrmann’s choice of reflection and flashbacks is a useful framing device, but lends little overall.
Arguably a film of moments, GATSBY will serve as an act of literary betrayal to many. Embellished within an inch of its life, this cautionary tale of the American Dream risks being smothered altogether due to the often-fragmented nature of its hallowed text. Glazed, dreamlike montages bring the wow factor, but once the flighty first half is over, this is an enthralling and gritty drama that is an absolute joy to watch. A beautiful poetic mess, standing at a distance may be beneficial for Nick, but the payoff is far sweeter when presented the opportunity to appreciate the depth and emotion at GATSBY’s heart.