Film review by Jason Day of The Great Gatsby, the 1920’s set drama about an impressionable young writer and his multimillionaire friend. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan and directed by Baz Luhrmann.
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Writer and Wall Street trader Nick (Tobey Maguire) moves into a shabby house next door to the palatial mansion of multimillionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a secretive man who occasionally throws lavish and hedonistic parties.
The two become fast friends and Nick enjoys the trappings of Jay’s success and uncovers his mysterious past.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Writing reviews of movies based on books you haven’t read can be a daunting task, especially when that book is as famous and revered as The Great Gatsby.
Yes, I can waffle on about how fabulous it is as a piece of cinema, but there’s always ‘that’ side of it I can’t relate to.
That can be a good thing. I can focus on the film as a piece of cinema and not a cinematic adaptation, but if I’m honest, I felt on safer ground praising Becky Sharp (1935) because I’ve read Thackeray’s monumental tome twice and have researched academic views about it.
Well, I’ll try and get over this.
This is the fifth film version (but only the fourth to reach the big screen) of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal novel, for some the authentic depiction on page of the loose limbed living of the roaring twenties. This movie follows its literary predecessor – it has the kick of a prohibition bottle of bootleg booze.
As befits a depiction of the anything goes (and very often did) life and times of the Jazz Age, writer/director Luhrmann creates a frenzied, fizzy, perpetual party atmosphere. It’s all champagne, charlie, confetti and classy cliques.
The movie feels like one long, boozy, druggy weekend which – if you had the funds to live/party during this time – means he hits the mark consistently.
Stylistically, Luhrmann does for the 20’s what he has for England’s Shakespeare, France’s Moulin Rouge and his home country of Australia – brilliant casting, ravishing visuals that include gorgeous cinematography and stand alone set pieces, a great soundtrack that mixes old and new songs and an accent on fine editing.
I’m not usually one to harp on about a movie’s soundtrack. I’m not a music fan and have trouble pinning down a favourite track or album, but the choice here is fabulous.
It must be great because, writing this two weeks after seeing the movie, I still remember it. Hip hop and pop music from the likes of Jay-Z and Beyoncé are seamlessly remixed as 1920’s floor-fillers to have you tapping your toes with terpsichorean talent.
But it’s the look of the film and the élan of the performers that tattoos this movie on your memory.
Jack Clayton’s hit 1974 version – a movie that, like the book, I admit I have not yet seen – starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was criticised for showing little feeling toward the Jazz Age. Luhrmann, on the other hand, seduces us with true decadence and abandon. After just a few seconds at one of Jay’s parties, even as a mere spectator, you won’t want to return to the modern day.
People during this time were described as “living fast and dying young” and let’s face it, partying yourself to death is one helluva way to go!
We’ve known for yonks that DiCaprio, with his chubby-faced, boyish good looks – is an actor of note and real, serious talent. It was obvious after seeing him wipe the floor with the cast of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) when he was 19…and that cast includes Johnny Depp, Mary Steenburgen and Juliet Lewis.
DiCaprio’s shimmering Jay is a beguiling and mercurial character, a BFFL who only manages to exists only in the moment. He’s like a shadow of a friend whom Nick has little grip on let alone an understanding of.
Maguire and Mulligan play these sort of misbegotten roles so often that we have to thank God for the roaringly saucy support turns to keep enlivening the movie.
Edgerton and Fisher capture the throbbing, thrusting sexuality of the period as lovers Tom and Myrtle.
However stealing the show from them is Debicki as Jordan who shines a level above all with the immortal line (the best in the film): “I like large parties, they are so intimate. With small parties, there’s no privacy.”
I’ll raise a glass or two to that.
For more, see the official Warner Bros. webpage.
Cast & credits
Director: Baz Luhrman.
Producers: Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Baz Luhrman, Catherine Martin, Douglas Wick.
Writers: Baz Luhrman, Craig Pearce.
Camera: Simon Duggan.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Sets: Catherine Martin, Karen Murphy.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan.