Baz Luhrmann is one of an enviable breed of filmmakers who has carved out a niche for himself in the world of cinema and whose unique style has earned him allure for filmgoers and actors, who could be sold on a film by his name alone.
Australian-born writer/director Luhrmann hit the big time with his modern take on Romeo and Juliet (1996) and the majestic Moulin Rouge (2001), both part of what has been dubbed his “Red Curtain Trilogy” – where he revelled in the theatrical, high-jinx and memorable musical concoctions.
He went off course with his homeland epic Australia (2008) and it has been too long since we saw the sprinkle of Luhrmann’s stardust and what a welcome return this is; a reengagement with the forever-young Leonardo DiCaprio in a reimagining of one of the most iconic literary classics, The Great Gatsby.
If this film wasn’t already a nailed on box office success, the pre-release trailer guaranteed it. One of the best trailers in recent years, rivalling the likes of The Dark Knight, Watchmen and Inception, it was deliberately ostentatious, bold and dramatic.
Not only was there dazzling gold and black art deco imagery, dramatic slow motion scenes and classic lines, but it was all lifted by the driving tones of Jay-Z and Kayne West’s “No Church in the Wild” and Filter’s bruising version of “Happy Together.”
Vivid posters have been around the underground for months – Oxford Circus even got an art deco makeover in the wake of the film’s release.
Could it live up to the hype? Well, it may not be quite as impressive as the trailer suggests, but it is decadent, glamorous and beautifully shot and the characters are believable, but this is a film that will likely polarise viewers.
Traditionalists might frown at the use of modern music in a film about the “Roaring Twenties”, but anyone with concerns over continuity will never get on with Luhrmann’s films.
There will be literary sticklers who may argue that the focus of the film is not in direct agreement with that of the classic 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.
There were naysayers of the casting before the film was even finished, some saying Carey Mulligan wasn’t pretty enough to play the source of Gatsby’s affections, Daisy Buchanan.
Not everyone is going to agree on whether a film adaptation of a well-loved book is a good reflection on the novel’s themes, character or tone and for that reason viewers would better served deciding whether it is a great film in its own right.
This is a filmmaker’s take on a story that has been read for generations and taught in schools and universities worldwide.
Luhrmann, as you’d expect, has created a unique adaptation.
For those who have not read the novel, The Great Gatsby, in short, is about a self-made young man from “new money” living in an ostentatious mansion in a fictional town called West Egg on Long Island, who has holds lavish parties (frequented by the glitterati from in and around New York City), despite the host remaining a mystery figure to most.
Initially, little is known about enigmatic Jay Gatsby [DiCaprio] and how he has amassed his wealth and Chinese whispers spread amongst guests and locals about his exploits and background.
The narrator of the story is Nick Carraway [Tobey Maguire], a Yale graduate and bond salesman, who has moved into a house neighbouring Gatsby’s manor and whose cousin Daisy [Mulligan] lives across the bay in East Egg with her polo-loving, “old money” millionaire husband, Tom [Joel Edgerton].
Tom is domineering and has a mistress on the side named Myrtle [Isla Fisher].
When visiting Daisy, timid Nick is introduced to Daisy’s fun-loving friend, Jordan [Elizabeth Debicki], who is a regular at the notorious Gatsby parties.
When Nick experiences one of the bashes he is blown away by the elaborate excess.
Despite being overawed, he becomes close to Gatsby when surprising developments arise.
Gatsby met Daisy when he was soldier in the war five years before, and now he asks Nick to invite Daisy over the bay in order for him to stage an “accidental” reunion with his former sweetheart.
Having witnessed Tom cavorting with Myrtle, Nick agrees to invite Daisy to his house so Gatsby can see her, sparking off an affair which sets doomed wheels in motion for several of the main protagonists.
Is this a love story or a story of obsession?
Is it a piece of social comment or a depiction of greed?
Luhrmann wants this to be a film about aspirations, which is why he got Jay-Z on-board for the music. The hip-hop mogul is the modern day king of bling to The Great Gatsby’s showy 1920’s entrepreneurial go-getters.
Shawn Carter’s climb from the Brooklyn ghetto to become the self-proclaimed “King of New York” has parallels with film’s fictional self-made men, Gatsby and shady businessman Meyer Wolfsheim [played by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan].
As we live in an age where the Western world lauds and idolises their music, movie and sport stars, while at the same time reviling their indulgent lifestyles in a period of recession, the film resonates in its relevance.
Luhrmann acutely focuses though on Gatsby’s wondrous faith in achieving his goal and bridging a seemingly unbridgeable gap, where he allows no-one to extinguish the hope he possesses that allows him to go to whatever lengths required to get what he wants.
The green light across the bay from Gatsby’s mansion signifies the beacon of hope and embodies the visible ambition of reclaiming Daisy as his own.
Nick says about Gatsby that he had a “gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.”
The impact of Gatsby’s hope is both impressive and self-destructive and is most definitely at the heart of this adaptation.
Carey Mulligan shines amidst the razzle-dazzle of the movie, with her elfin looks and delicately-refined voice giving Daisy the captivating glow to bewitch Gatsby, whilst there is that sparkle in her eyes to suggest she can be as hard and sharp as the Tiffany diamonds on show. DiCaprio is simply made for the role of Jay Gatsby.
Hold back any reservations and embrace this reinvention of a Jazz-Age classic, where the upper echelons defy prohibition to drink and dine out with glitzy pomp in glorious 3D.
The Great Gatsby 3D (12A)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Toby Maguire, Amitabh Bachchan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, Adelaide Clemens.
Running time: 142 minutes
The Great Gatsby is showing at the Rio cinema until 31 May and at Hackney Picturehouse throughout May / June./ 23 May, 2013