For a legion of schoolgirls, and I’ll include myself in this, who fell half in love with Leonardo DiCaprio almost two decades ago as he charmed Juliet, there’s still something of the Romeo about him in his latest film, The Great Gatsby.
As the titular Gatsby, the boyish smiles and bright blue eyes really work, and lend themselves to the character’s hopeful yet delusional air.
A riot of colour and sound, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby tries to put the great into every moment.
The subtlety of F Scott Fitzgerald’s original novel is missing from the film, but this is a Luhrmann production after all – spectacle, not subtlety, is half the point. Sounds and colours and zooming camera shots smack you in the face at every turn, at times drawing attention away from the characters.
It’s the 1920s and Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to a small house in West Egg, opposite his cousin Daisy’s (Carey Mulligan). Next door to Nick lives Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), renowned across New York for being a complete mystery and for his huge parties.
As Daisy struggles through her marriage with the womanising, cruel Tom (Joel Edgarton), Gatsby asks Nick to set up a meeting with Daisy, the only woman he’s ever loved.
From the raucous Gatsby parties to the speedy driving scenes to the moment Gatsby and Daisy are reunited in a room full of flowers, everything pops off the screen, especially in 3D.
The saturation of colour and sound, and also the lack of colour and music in the valley of ashes, lends a sense of doom that pervades the film from the moment we see New York. Even as thousands of party-goers are watching fabulous fireworks across the bay in front of Gatsby’s house, there’s something brewing under the surface, signified by the flashing green light in front of Daisy’s house that Gatsby has spent years watching.
But it’s the quieter moments that have more impact, especially after the constant cacophony of fireworks and music (the Jay-Z produced soundtrack actually works in this adaptation). Daisy and Gatsby slow dancing in the foyer, Gatsby’s nerves before seeing Daisy again for the first time, Nick’s quiet contemplation of who Gatsby is – they work better than all the loud moments put together, largely because DiCaprio and Mulligan are good in their roles as the hopeful, charming yet slightly delusional Gatsby and the foolish, selfish Daisy. In quieter moments, you can almost forget the sense of doom that pervades the whole film.
Unfortunately, the quieter moments are far too few, and those subtleties are missing from other characters. I know that Tom is bad because he looks bad, and the sneer he wears on his face tells me he’s bad. I know his mistress, Myrtle, is kind of stupid yet much more worldly than Daisy because Isla Fisher imbues her voice with a really, really thick Noo Yawk accent.
The most deeply felt relationship in the film, as it is in the book, is not between Daisy and Gatsby, but between Nick and Gatsby. Maguire’s tone, a sort of rumbling that conveys the admiration, and indeed, love, Nick feels for Gatsby better than the looks on his face do throughout the film.
Beyond the smart clothes of the Jazz Age, Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is not an elegant film, it’s in-your-face and lacks the mystery of the novel, but it’s a 21st century version of a great American tale – short on depth, big on image – for a celebrity loving culture. After all, was there a bigger celebrity than Gatsby?