By Gary “Tender is the Night” Murray

Starring Leonard DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki and Amitabh Bachchan

Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce

Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Running time 2 hr 22 min

Selig Film Rating Matinee


Some consider The Great Gatsby as the greatest novel ever written.  The story is of Jay Gatsby and his quest to win back the love of the married Daisy, has been read by kids in high school and college for decades.  The 1925 story is also of the jazz age of the Roaring 1920s, full of speak-easy drinks and hot jazz music.

There have been five versions of the film made with the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the most popular.  Baz Luhrmann, the wunderkind director behind Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom takes on a new telling of the tale.

The story starts much more like Catcher in the Rye, with our narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) telling his tale to a mental health doctor.  He is a sensitive young man who has failed as a writer and is now attempting to become a player on Wall Street in the bond market. 

Nick moves into a small cottage in West Egg that is dwarfed by the mansion next door, the home of Jay Gatsby.  Gatsby throws lavish parties with elite of New York, wild all-night affairs with flowing fountains of champagne.  Even though everyone knows of Gatsby, no one at the parties truly knows much about the actual man.  As Nick writes the story of Gatsby, he writes the story of his own life.

Across the bay in West Egg is Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).  The people of West Egg are old money and East Egg live in the disgusting world new money.  Even in the milieu of the rich, there are class distinctions.

Nick is also Daisy’s second cousin.   Gatsby eventually befriends Nick, just to see Daisy.  It seems that Jay and Daisy had a relationship five years ago, before he made his money.  Nick also befriends Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) a female pro golfer who leads the life of leisure.  She also eventually becomes involved in Gatsby’s world.

Tom is a bit of a scoundrel, taking up with a married woman Myrtle (Isla Fisher).  Myrtle is the personification of the party girl atmosphere that is reflective of the Roaring 20s. She lives for the party.

Nick is over his head with both Tom and Gatsby, men who are both wealthy but on opposite sides of what it means to have cash.  Gatsby gets mysterious calls from places like Chicago and Philadelphia, calls that are of a business nature but seem unseemly.  He shadows dealings with a shady character (Amitabh Bachchan) who runs a speak-easy.

The story of Gatsby is of Daisy and Jay re-meeting and the kindling of that spark.  It is also about soulless vapid people who are more self-interested than selfless.  Some consider it a great romance while others think as a reflection of the egotism of the era.

This version of Gatsby is very much a mixed bag of a film.  Some of the visuals are breathtaking, with swift camera angles and grand vistas.  It is a film that fills every bit of the frame, with literary devices such as a poster of eyeglasses as the watchful eye of God.  The costumes are flashy yet elegant, much in the vein of Moulin Rouge but again with a modern feel.  The music is a blend of classic jazz with modern sounds in a quilt of sonic vividness. There will be brilliant cinematic articles done on the use of visual metaphor in The Great Gatsby.

This version of Gatsby is in 3D and the effect shows just how effective the trick can be used as a storytelling technique.  Though they do not do those ‘jump at you’ effects, Baz and the crews use the effect to make the world fully functional.  This is a world that breathes before your eyes.

While parts of this film are just brilliant spectacle, other parts just drag on.   Baz knows that he has built a wonderful world for his actors to play in–he just doesn’t want to get rid of anything.  The movie follows the basic plot of the book, embellishing bits here and there, but at almost 2 ½ hours.  It needed to be trimmed down.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a brilliant reading of Jay Gatsby, easily the best version of the character.  His character is a man who tries to hide his true feelings, both of himself and his intentions.  His Gatsby has a rogue charms and the heartbreaking gaze down.  We truly feel sorry for the man who seems to have everything but in the end has nothing. 

Carey Mulligan is lost in the part of Daisy, proof that casting someone famous is not always the best option.  She is supposed to be the personification of all that is lost in life, the path not taken.  The actress is more of a little lost girl and not a woman having to confront her choices in life. 

The biggest surprise is how little used Isla Fisher is used in The Great Gatsby.  She gets star billing but has just a few moments in the production.  She is a wonderful actress cast in a part beneath her stature.  The character in the novel is more a function of the downfall and not a major driving force of the plot.  Here, it feels as if the character is an afterthought.

The two most impressive performances were done in the secondary cast.  Those performances are by Elizabeth Debicki and Amitabh Bachchan.  As Jordan, Elizabeth is the wide-eyed innocence of the era.  She is swept up into this world, never seeing the danger beneath the surface.   Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfsheim is that danger beneath the surface, the danger of the gangsters and illegal nature of what is going on in ‘right society’.  His sneer and her bright eyes are much more along the lines of the idea of F. Scott than just about every other element of the film.

The Great Gatsby should make a big flash in the cinema opening weekend.  Then after that, like the man himself, it will probably fade into the dark recesses of cinema history.  The 1974 version is still the king adaptation. 


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