Starring: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Thompson
Written By: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Directed By: Baz Luhrmann
I am definitely one of those “Baz” skeptics. In fact, that’s why I’m just now reviewing the film, months after its theatrical release. I often find his films to be loud, flashy, and void of substance. I think the only good thing I could say really about his work prior to Gatsby is that it is very pretty to look at. Moulin Rouge was his best work before this, in my opinion, and even that took multiple viewings before I finally thought the film was OK. I hate Romeo + Juliet, and Australia was a chore. Gatsby, however, is actually kinda fantastic. I’m shocked.
I have to admit upfront that this is my only exposure to the Gatsby source material. I honestly haven’t read the book, nor have I seen the Robert Redford version. It’s really a great story, and from what I can tell, Luhrmann really brings it to life. The colors on the screen, the detail put into the scenic work, the costuming, it is all incredibly, beautifully designed. Luhrmann ‘paints’ his films, making sure each frame is a stand-alone masterpiece. He’s always been a very visual director, and this film really allows him to shine in that respect.
The story follows Nick (Maguire) as he looks back on his life, reflecting on time spent with one “Jay Gatsby”.The story unfolds that Gatbsy (Dicaprio) is a notoriously private person, who very few have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Yet he throws large, elaborate parties, and hundreds frequent them. Most know nothing about him beyond simple rumors. Nick has the pleasure of receiving an invitation from Gatsby to such an event, and becomes acquainted with the man behind the mask. He’s intrigued by Gatsby, as he lives such a different life than his.
Gatsby reveals to him that he does have an agenda with Nick, and it lies with him needing Nick to arrange to have tea with his cousin, Daisy (Mulligan). Gatsby and Daisy were once madly in love, but he was poor, and she ended up marrying Tom Buchanan (Edgerton) instead. Nick is well aware that Tom is having an affair with the wife (Fisher) of an acquaintance (Clarke), so it puts his mind at ease setting up this meeting. Once the two are reunited, their grand love affair reignites. But Gatsby has plans for the future, and he needs Daisy to make a choice. Sometimes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
The film is beautiful, featuring a great soundtrack that highlights the grand lifestyle to which our lead characters are accustomed. Whenever we see Jason Clarke’s character, who is destitute poor, all the colors are washed out. His life has no color. It is only a smattering of various hues of gray. His wife, a temptress, is the only color around him, always donning red, an obvious choice for a mistress. Lana Del Rey’s standout song Young And Beautiful is a perfect representation of the film.
My only concern is with Tobey Maguire, who brings an odd goofy quality to Nick, one that is appreciated in films like Spider-Man or Pleasantville where he is playing a somewhat nerdy character. In this character, he isn’t really nerdy, merely just a reserved, quiet man. I think Maguire was miscast. Carey Mulligan, meanwhile, was superb as Daisy, and DiCaprio is charming as Gatsby. I can’t help but think the film would have been just a little better with a different leading man. I love Maguire, just not in this role.
If you were worried that Luhrmann’s adaptation was going to be incoherent, you’ll be happy to know I found it to be his best work yet. It will likely be forgotten for all awards this year, except maybe costuming and art direction, but it deserved so much more. Truly one of the better films this year.
FINAL GRADE: A-