Baz Luhrmann rebounds from the travesty that was Australia with a subject befitting his particular cinematic swagger. Tackling a giant of American literature, adapted for the cinema at least half a dozen times, underscores the audacious ego of the Australian director, who leaps from the ballroom to Shakespeare to Paris to the Australian Outback and now to F Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel like a tightrope walker on crack. The result, thankfully, is worth the effort.
Although Tobey Maguire's golly-gee portrayal of Nick Carraway, narrator and conscience of the piece, threatens to derail the drama, Leonardo DiCaprio's nuanced performance in the title role balances the histrionic nature of Luhrmann's filmmaking style. As events spiral towards their inevitable conclusion, he maintains our sympathy, even as we reel with incredulity over his blind faith in an impossible plan.
Shot in 3D, Luhrmann's Gatsby is a Technicolor wonderland of opulence and degradation. The centrepiece is Gatsby's lavish parties. Luhrmann and co-conspirator, wife Catherine Martin, revel in the bacchanalian exuberance of the socialite mecca, revealing both its attractions and decay.
Less well developed is the connection between Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Gatsby that fuels his idealistic romanticism, as though Luhrmann is relying on the audience to have read Fitzgerald's 1925 novel to flesh out their relationship.
Without truly believing in Gatsby's excessive infatuation with the idea of Daisy, if not the person, it puts a strain on our understanding of his motivations. The grandiose production embellishes the distancing effect, leaving us almost as dispossessed as Gatsby finds himself.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Directors: Baz Luhrmann
Running time: 143 mins
The Great Gatsby is out now.