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Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book certainly has all the right ingredients for the Australian-born director to get his teeth into. The book’s celebration (and – ultimately – damnation) of the gaudy glitz and glamour at the heart of 1920s America gives Luhrmann free reign to indulge all the onscreen flash and flare for which he has become renowned. He certainly does this (especially with the film being in 3D, the best use of the format since Scorsese’s Hugo) but even so – while the visuals remain eye-popping – the film still feels a little lacklustre on the emotion front.
Nick Carraway (Tobery Maguire) sits in his doctor’s office and decides to recount the story of the turning point in his life: his meeting Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Carraway, a timid stockbroker, lives close to the mysterious millionaire and is soon delighted to be invited to one of Gatsby’s parties. But this is not just a party. This is an orgy of excess, delight and exuberance that attracts people from across the country almost every week. As Carraway becomes intoxicated (literally and figuratively) with a new life of wanton abandon, he becomes increasingly intrigued by the secretive Gatsby. As the two become close it becomes clear that Gatsby wants to see Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and soon their secret past comes to light. But will Daisy’s husband Tim (Joel Edgerton) throw a spanner in the works?
There are moments of grand opulence here that are well worth the price of admission, such as the revealing of Gatsby’s initial party, which excites and delights with its over-the-topness. But – as the excitement of the visuals dwindle – it lacks the ‘oomph’ to make it truly special. DiCaprio, Mulligan and Maguire are all fine actors but the intensity of their performances takes a back seat to the design.
Make no mistake, this is an enjoyable affair, but the film suffers from ‘style over substance,’ which Fitzgerald’s book (at its heart) was fiercely critical of.