Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Great Gatsby


You may think you've been to a few good parties in your time, but they're unlikely to compare to what Baz Luhrmann puts on in The Great Gatsby.

Luhrmann has created a hyper-realistic visual extravaganza. It's an over-the-top and richly detailed aesthetic, like a fashion shoot by Vogue US creative director Grace Coddington, and with no expense spared on wardrobe or set design.

It's also house porn on a whole new level; at times 400 beautifully refined extras party under massive chandeliers in Gatsby's luxurious home and garden. This is no surprise, shooting in 3D always seemed unnecessary; Luhrmann's films have always looked like they're in 3D.

The interest, though, has always focused on how Luhrmann would reconcile his trademark sexy film style and musical mash-up with the successful rendering of a classic American novel.

In many ways he's delivered a faithful and respectful adaptation, and at times he shows great restraint.

The dialogue is full of lines taken directly from Fitzgerald's novel, and it's lovely hearing his prose spoken on screen. It's something Luhrmann obviously also enjoyed, as he's typed out these lines on the screen for us ... or maybe he just loved how they looked in 3D.

Regardless, it's an example of how the sensational visuals and glitz and glamour threaten to completely overwhelm the story of Jay Gatsby.

Set in 1922, Fitzgerald's novel is about society living life to the full, unaware of the disaster looming around the corner. The story is narrated by Midwesterner Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a wannabe writer who moves to New York to become a stockbroker and ends up living in a cottage next to the mysterious and incredibly wealthy Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio).

Gatsby is known for throwing the most lavish parties in New York, and yet very few of his guests know who he is. Nick and Gatsby become acquainted, and soon after Gatsby asks Nick to arrange an informal meeting between Nick's cousin Daisy (Mulligan) and himself. In exchange, he takes Nick into his confidence, slowly revealing the truth about his past.

DiCaprio does a pretty good job of Gatsby. He's not as mysterious or subtle as he could be, but he unravels and reveals Gatsby's true character with vulnerability and fragility, even if he has an annoying tendency to overuse the term "old sport".

The rest of the film is also well cast for a "literature meets pop culture" style of adaptation. Mulligan is suitably self-interested, and Maguire is suitably overwhelmed by the world he finds himself in. Refusing to be left out or forgotten, Aussie actor Joel Edgerton gives a ballsy performance as Daisy's blue-blooded husband.

Of course, you can't have a Luhrmann film without mentioning the music. The musical styles range across Jay-Z-produced hip-hop, jazz courtesy of The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, the wonderful vocals of Florence and the Machine, and a touch of Gershwin. The soundtrack plays a vital role in building tension and getting the party started, but it fits seamlessly into the film, rather than provides the expected edge.

This is an ambitious, audacious adaptation of a classic piece of American literature, and you really want to love it. The incredible amount of work, detail and thoughtfulness that has gone into the production is clear to see.

As much as there is to admire about Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, it keeps us at arm's length, emotionally unconnected, observers rather than participants.

Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby might not reach the dizzying heights of Fitzgerald's novel, but he gives it a damn good shot, old sport.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Running Time: 143 mins
Rating: M (Contains violence and sex scenes)
Verdict: A good but not great, Gatsby

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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