A Baz Luhrmann film can instantly be recognized by its flamboyant visual style and a storyline that centers on a love story. Considering Luhrmann would seem to be the right type of director for a The Great Gatsbyadaptation, there was a lot to look forward to with his latest film. As long as he could find some cushion room for the book’s themes there is exuberance in the text that would make him seem perfect for it. Well this latest version of The Great Gatsby is unmistakably a Baz Luhrmann. It might just be Luhrmann at his most over-the-top and this can be quite jarring at first. However, this film still works. The book’s themes still shine through and a talented cast and flashy visuals pull the film the rest of the way.
The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire) as he recounts meeting the one “good” person he ever met one summer during the Roaring Twenties while he is being treated at an alcohol abuse center. He tells the story of Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his attempt to reconnect with his long lost love, Daisy Buchanan (played by Carey Mulligan). Baz Luhrmann directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Craig Pearce (a frequent collaborator with Lurhmann).
This film is all about Baz Luhrmann trying to throw everything at the screen. The camera never stops moving (with the help from some solid CGI work) and every other scene seems to come with a song from a present day artist. Both of these elements lead to a pretty jarring introduction (especially the songs which don’t really work until they build Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” into the film’s main musical theme). However, as the film finishes introducing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world and characters, these elements seem to take a back seat to the drama of the story. This is when the film finally begins to offer something of worth as the talented cast that Luhrmann has assembled gets to take center stage.
The cast is the true strength of this film to the point where even actors who haven’t delivered a good performance in years (by that I mean Tobey Maguire) get moments to shine in roles that were quite boring on the page (by that I mean the book’s narrator, Nick Carraway). Despite Nick Carraway being the first and last person we see on the screen, Leonardo Dicaprio’s Jay Gatsby is the true star of the film, and DiCaprio delivers with one of his best performances yet. While DiCaprio rarely settles into an acting comfort zone (like other stars of his magnitude such as George Clooney), he struggles in many films to lose his persona. There are quite a few times where you just can’t forget that you are watching DiCaprio instead of whatever character he is playing. I think the biggest compliment I can give him with this film is that you do forget that you are watching him. As for the third lead of the film, Carey Mulligan is a solid if unspectacular Daisy.
This film also has a deep bench of good supporting work. Joel Edgerton delivers his best performance yet as he is almost unrecognizable as Tom Buchanan. Also being quite unrecognizable is Adelaide Clemens in a very small role as Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher)’s sister. Elizabeth Debicki provides a strong breakthrough performance as Jordan Baker, Nick Carraway’s love interest. However, the performance I really want to bring attention to is Jason Clarke’s role as George Wilson. After his work in Zero Dark Thirty, Clarke just seemed like a perfect fit for the role of George and he fully delivers even if he doesn’t get the screentime he deserved.
A strong second half anchored by its superlative cast is enough to make The Great Gatsby worth it despite some jarring table setting from Baz Luhrmann.