Written by: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke
Class systems make the world go round, where you even see them amongst the wealthy elite divided between old money and new. Hard to believe this major commonality of a population would manage a way to “other” people in the same tax bracket, but it only assures our carnal human need to feel superior to others. One of the many elements sitting under the champagne-covered surface of The Great Gatsby as it brings one of my personal favorite novels to life in style.
Staying in Long Island, New York for his work on Wall Street, Nick Buchanon (Tobey Maguire) rents a humble house next to a mysterious figure who always throws lavish parties. While also living across the waterway from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Nick learns about their past and the bitter reality of the fickle society running through 1920s New York.
For better or worse, pairing a story with a director matching its ambition makes for an authentic production, even if it has plenty of warts to display as well. Tapping Baz Luhrmann, a man known for his opulence and grandeur on screen appeared to be the only one to over embellish the gaudy nature of this society and I’m so glad he took the reigns to cover every inch of the screen with confetti and alcohol. Makeup and dos appeared to be overdone, safety did not matter, and superficiality reigned on high. It makes for a great party, but when everyone sobers up, the ugly and empty nature of their reality becomes explicitly clear.
Coming from the unreliable narration of Nick Buchanon, this story gets told in flashback fashion with Nick judging the world as much as he admits he enjoyed some of the splendor or afforded him. It brought another look of a much talked about time in United States history, the Roaring 20s where prohibition only made alcohol cheaper to acquire, the stock market reached record highs, and attending lavish parties on the weekends became the norm. This allure brought Nick to New York for the summer and it became a time he enjoyed but also grew to hate because he saw the true artificiality of it all but far too late, which all came from his time with Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The casting of Jay Gatsby, along with the director, remains the most important aspect of putting together an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s heralded book and no one could have been more perfect than Leonardo DiCaprio. Capturing a boyish charm along with the face of new money to challenge the heralded beliefs of those across the waterway, DiCaprio appears on screen for the first time in what might be the greatest character introduction in cinema history. An explosion of met anticipation and revelation, DiCaprio takes the reins from Robert Redford in portraying this elusive figure and does it in the way only he could. He stands as the handsome face to some nefarious businesses and lets his wit of deviation dodge any insights into his past. As confident as can be when around others, the way DiCaprio melts whenever he interacts with Mulligan’s Daisy shows the true nature of this character and their pairing works exquisitely well.
Where this film received criticism, unjustly in my eyes, comes from the implementation of modern music to a time containing a distinct musical style of its own. I understand how music from that time could have been utilized, but the direction Baz Luhrmann tried to go with comes purely from the overstylization and superficiality of this culture overall. One where it had a heightened sense of reality on the verge of being fake where the modern music utilized infused with the jazz of that time made complete sense. It feels completely natural amongst the glitzy world put on display from the sun-soaked streets of New York and the extravagant parties put on at Gatsby’s house. This soundtrack genuinely slaps and it works even better in the context of the film and I will defend its utilization to the very end.
It almost makes sense this film would feel overlong in its runtime as it comes bursting at the seams in every other aspect of its production. Everything comes at a quick speed from the information delivered by the characters, to the speed of the vehicles, you almost have to catch up to the narrative quickness of this movie while also feeling too long as well. Quite the combination and while it comes with plenty of faults overall, I’m glad this iteration of one of my favorite novels exists just to sit back and enjoy the opulence and overindulgence on display for this tragedy.