In 1996, Australian director Baz Luhrmann retold the classic Romeo& Juliet with a modern twist. Unique visual effects, pop music and use of original Shakespearean dialogue distinguished Luhrmann’s vision. The Great Gatsby leaps off the screen in the same fashion, but is it worth the experience?
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is one that you may (or may not) have read in high school. The translation from book to film includes a few changes. The most notable differences are in the epilogue of the film, which I won’t ruin, and don’t affect the overall interpretation. Fitzgerald’s story is still here, and it’s pretty stunning.
Nick Caraway (Toby Maguire) narrates this tale of Roaring Twenties New York, where jazz music and prohibition dominate. Caraway lives next door to Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a newly rich man known for his weekly, elaborate parties. Across the bay from both men lives Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Nick’s cousin and Gatsby’s obsession.
Baz Luhrmann’s visuals pump life into Gatsby’s tale. The world has the look of Dick Tracy on steroids. Colors are vibrant, costumes flamboyant and even cars have personality. The 3D in Gatsby is most celebrated in the party scenes, as confetti and lights jump off the screen. A green light flares from Daisy’s house, hypnotizing Gatsby and the audience.
Leonardo DiCaprio shines as Jay Gatsby, the most popular man that everyone knows the least about. He’s an ambitious charmer hiding many secrets. Gatsby flashes a devilish smile, and shares tales of his world travels, constantly referring to everyone as “old sport”. He slowly reveals a darker man full of blind ambition, in one of his best performances.
Gatsby falters only around Daisy, who has married Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a man of “old money” and many prejudices. . Gatsby met her five years earlier, as a poor man, on his way to fight in The Great War. After corresponding with her through letters, he decides to build an empire and make her his wife.
With Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrmann merged period pieces with pop culture. For the most part, it’s interesting, but in Gatsby, it’s hit or miss.
It makes sense that Jay-Z would be interested in a story that mirrors his own real life, but his executive producer film credit should be replaced with soundtrack production. With at least four of his songs in the film, including a new one called “100$ Bill,” Jigga overdoes it. There are some great songs by Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey and an interesting, jazzy cover of Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”.
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is the most interesting version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book. It’s a pleasure to watch, even if a bit long winded, at almost two and a half hours. The parties are lively and the most intense, dramatic moments are heartfelt. This is the closest you’ll get to a party in the 1920s without a time machine, old sport.