Audiences know what to expect from Director Baz Lurhmann, wild costumes, a thumping eclectic soundtrack and hyperstylised camera moves and edits.
Whether the “Great American Novel” in the form of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is a suitable subject for his particular directorial flair is up for debate.
The story is told in flashback through the innocent abroad recollections of a young New York bond broker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). Carraway moves into a rental property in West Egg, Long Island. The house next door is a nouveau riche mansion of incredulous splendour, which hosts parties to die for as New York’s beautiful people descend in garish open top cars.
The owner, the mysterious Gatsby throws lavish hedonistic soirées where alcohol and debauchery runs as deep as the outsize swimming pool in the manicured grounds. Carraway is entranced, experiencing a world he never even knew existed.
Gradually Gatsby draws him into his web of influence and over time the object of his interest in Carraway becomes clearer. Access to his previous love in the form of Carraway’s cousin, is what he seeks, in the shape of the very much married Daisy (Carey Mulligan), tied to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
The Buchanan’s live in a equally grand mansion just across the water at East Egg, across a strip of water barely wide enough to restrain Gatsby’s burgeoning obsession.
The story is a morality tale, a universal theme of greed, love, obsession and deceit. Despite being set in 1922, the story still retains resonance in the here and now. How much money will ever be enough, how people can recreate themselves, be whoever they want to be and yet never leave their past truly behind. The morality on display is infinite shades of grey, self preservation, selfishness and expediency, all of which remain with us nearly a century later.
Deep stuff and perhaps not best suited to the hyper kinetic style of Lurhmann. Filmed on sets (in Australia) and utilising state of the art effects with rapid zooms, this is “Moulin Rouge the flapper years”. The soundtrack, normally a trademark is somewhat subdued and does not always fit seamlessly or even clash effectively with the settings and on screen action, despite heavyweight artists including too hot to trot, Jay Z and Lana del Ray.
The cast acquit themselves well, Di Caprio has finally lost his boyish looks and makes for an interesting character despite his requirement to say “old sport” every five minutes or so. Mulligan continues her assault on the silver screen, with doe eyes and looking a million dollars, undoubtedly setting a style and trend sure to be emulated on a catwalk near you soon.
Maguire does lost and wide eyed as good as anyone, the personal cost on his character’s sanity, perhaps a cheap price to pay for the release of his own dormant creativity. Edgerton does snarling upper class bad egg in East Egg rather well, in the same tradition as Billy Zane in “Titanic”. Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan gets a grand opening “My Boy” line and then promptly disappears which seems a waste of a fine actor. Debicki as pro golfer Jordan Baker, gets to be pale, elusive and mysterious.
Would the story have been better served by a more straightforward retelling in the classic style, possibly, would the budget have been as forthcoming, perhaps not. There is certainly a feeling that there is a far better film within the 143 minute running time that just refuses to emerge, we get flashes of brilliance but these remain tantalisingly out of reach.
If you are holding out for the song within the trailer “So Happy together”, you may be out of luck as it does not appear to have made the final cut, despite the excellent juxtaposition of sound and visuals, a strange omission.
A worthwhile watch, with costumes, visuals and characterisations to keep audiences content
Whether this style over substance approach is enough to paper over the shortcomings, occasional creaky dialogue and thin screenplay, will depend on how you approach the film.
Certainly not the disaster some had predicted but equally not the classic some had hoped for. Many however will be happy to settle for a grand, sweeping, largely violence free night out.