Great Gatsby, The (2013)


Director:  Baz Luhrmann
Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprioJoel EdgertonTobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Amitabh Bachchan
Plot:  A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor.

Genre:  Drama / Romance

Awards:  Won 2 Oscars - Best Production Design, Best Costume Design.
Runtime:  142min
Rating:  PG13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.


This film was reviewed in the 3D format.

Can't repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.”

The past is truly a remarkable construct.  The embedment of memories within this self-contained yet boundary-free canvas that is the mind is at once private and public.  The Great Gatsby, the new film by acclaimed Australian director Baz Luhrmann, based on the enduring 1925 novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a poignant look at a time of moral decadence and exuberant excess. 

While the film centers on Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), his story is told from the point-of-view of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), Gatsby’s next-door neighbour.  The private-public dialectic is thus manifested in this way and becomes a recurring theme throughout, in particular as an embodiment of Gatsby’s personality.

Please allow me to admit that I have not read the novel before, thus Luhrmann’s film is an eye-opener for me.  It is a decent film, well-constructed and just manages to hold my attention throughout its nearly 2.5 hours runtime. 

Those who have previously read Fitzgerald’s novel or have encountered the text in any other form might have certain preconceived notions and expectations of how the film ought to be like.  Perhaps this has led to mixed reviews for this big-screen adaptation. 

While short of giving it a hearty recommendation, I find The Great Gatsby very strong in its visual storytelling.  You don’t expect any less from a filmmaker who previously helmed Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Moulin Rouge! (2001). 

Luhrmann’s trademark visual aesthetic complements the excess and decadence of Gatsby’s world.  The powerhouse soundtrack, very much anachronistic in style, is a fusion of classical, jazz, rap and dance music, providing energy especially to its first hour where we see sequences of night partying at a grand mansion owned by Gatsby. 

The second half of the film fizzles out somewhat, taking a turn for the less flamboyant and deals with the escalating tension between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), whose wife Daisy Buchanan (a Carey Mulligan who is so incredibly beautiful) is the subject of Gatsby’s romantic interest, one that is characterized by years of emotional baggage.

Some excellent acting work by Edgerton, DiCaprio and Mulligan fuels the drama, enough to last the lap, though not without its moments of so-so-ness.  The Great Gatsby remains to be a dark film, a cautionary tale of sorts on the perils of associating the American dream with hedonistic idealism. 

Critic William Goss has called Luhrmann’s film “undeniably polished and unfailingly empty”.  Yes, it is largely style over substance, but the substance does unfold itself eventually, albeit less noticeably.  I can feel the soul of the story as narrated by Nick, and that is enough for me, even if Gatsby remains an enigma, whose hopes for the future are deeply rooted in the memories of the past.

Verdict:  An exuberant first hour gives way to a less energetic second half, but there is enough dramatic tension to last the lap in this quite decent big-screen adaptation.


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