Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) is the perfect director to take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel about the American dream, simply because he's an expert at showing the emptiness of hyperactive excess. The film is a feast for the eye from start to finish, but it also eats away at us with its bleak story of people who live the high life even though it leaves them naggingly unsatisfied.
The tale is told by Nick (Maguire), trying to work through his life-changing summer in 1922 Long Island, where he rented a small cottage across the sound from his wealthy cousin Daisy (Mulligan), who is married to his college pal Tom (Edgerton), an all-American sportsman with an eye for other women. Next door to Nick's cottage is the vast mansion owned by reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who throws outrageously raucous parties for New York's celebrity class. But Nick realises that Jay only does this to catch the eye of Daisy, because he's still in love with her after a romance five years earlier. Now he wants to take her away from Tom, and he needs Nick's help.
It's tricky to know whether Luhrmann is celebrating Gatsby's luxuriant lifestyle or offering a cautionary tale about the emptiness of materialism. Obviously, the story is trying to do both, and Luhrmann fills the surfaces with decadent extravagance, filling the air with wafting fabric, buckets of glitter and exploding fireworks. Like a lavish 3D pop-up book, the party scenes are wildly over-the-top, as are smaller gatherings in opulent city flats or roaring open-top cars. These people's lives are so vacuous that they live at top speed, always in search of the next thrill. And it's difficult not to see Gatsby's earnest quest as just another greedy acquisition.
All of this means that we really don't like any of the characters. But then, how could we? The cast plays them perfectly: DiCaprio is charismatic and insecure, while Edgerton brings a brutishly magnetic swagger. We can't see what either sees in Mulligan's passive airhead, but we do understand why Maguire's Nick cares about her. Much more interesting is Aussie actress Debicki as Daisy's party-girl pal, while Fisher and Clarke offer some intriguing layers as a working-class couple dazzled by the limelight. All of this reveals the story's icy heart with remarkable clarity. We may love watching Luhrmann's sumptuous visuals, but we won't miss the relevance of a story about the soul-destroying dangers of rampant consumerism.
Run time: 143 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th May 2013
Box Office USA: $144.8M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Spectrum Films, Red Wagon Entertainment, Bazmark Films, A&E Television Networks
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 124 Rotten: 132
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, Jason Clarke as George Wilson, Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfsheim, Callan McAuliffe as Teen Jay Gatsby, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, Steve Bisley as Dan Cody, Richard Carter as Herzog, Vince Colosimo as Michaelis, Max Cullen as Owl Eyes, Mal Day as The Boss-Probity Trust, Charlize Skinner as Pammy, Garrett William Fountain as Barman, David Furlong as Walter Chase, Danniel Gill as Police Commissioner, Iota as Trimalchio the Orchestra Leader, Brendan Maclean as Klipspringer, Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee, Barry Otto as Benny McClenahan, John O'Connell as Newton Orchid