Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is both dazzling and dizzying. Although the film has its detractors, it offers an unmissable cinematic experience.
Writer turned bond salesman Nick Carraway rents a cottage in Long Island. Living next door in a huge mansion is mysterious multi-millionaire Jay Gatsby. Nick finds himself being drawn into the life of his wealthy neighbour…
Those expecting a faithful version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal work are unlikely to be fully satisfied by this film. It is Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the story, and an ambitious one at that. Once viewers are aware of this (and the abundance of promotion for the film has made this clear), they should find The Great Gatsby an immersive and enjoyable ride.
The main shift from the novel revolves around the tone and representation rather than changes to the narrative. The film uses a lot of the same dialogue from its source material, which is unsurprising given the artistry of Fitzgerald’s prose. Luhrmann instead eschews some of the subtlety of the novel in favour of excess. Elements that are dealt with nuance are shifted to centre stage in this version.
Like the novel, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy dominates the narrative. However, Luhrmann pushes this further with an almost undivided focus on the relationship. There is less emphasis on Gatsby’s past and rise, except in relation to Daisy. Nick functions almost entirely as a narrator in the film, with much less being made of his interactions with Jordan Baker. The framing device employed in The Great Gatsby is not really necessary. It seems to have been added in to underscore the main narrative as a recollection; with the archive footage and overlayed text feeding into this.
From the opening titles to the final scene, The Great Gatsby is visually sumptuous. The 3D looks fantastic and is employed smartly with the highly stylised look of the film. The cinematography makes the most of this extra dimension. The camera work is at times disorientating in paralleling the frenzied nature of the mood and action.
The costumes and styling are excellent. Much has been made of the modern soundtrack, but it is a fantastic accompaniment to the on-screen action. Leonardo DiCaprio offers a terrific performance as the title character. Carey Mulligan is also strong as Daisy, and Joel Edgerton is finely cast as Tom Buchanan. The only letdown is Tobey Maguire, who is rather flaccid as Nick.
The Great Gatsby is a hymn to excess. A new cinematic version of a beloved book was always going to have some naysayers. But with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, viewers should sit back and engorge.