Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is currently residing in a sanatorium having treatment for his alcoholism, a condition he took to after a life-changing experience back in 1922, not one which changed his life for the better. His doctor is talking through Nick's problems and suggests he set pen to paper to collect his thoughts and set them right in his mind, so it is the still fairly young man transports himself back to that fateful time when he had moved into a comfortable dwelling on the shores of New York's Long Island where he began to note he had never met his immediate neighbour in the mansion next door, though he was aware of being observed by him. Who was this man?
That would be The Great Gatsby, then, in yet another attempt to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel to the screen, which some filmmakers felt duty bound to adapt what with its status as one of the all-time classics of American literature. What Baz Luhrmann did here was go about it in his accustomed glitzy manner, updating various aspects to have it chime with his version of Romeo + Juliet from the mid-nineties which also took a lauded piece and played around with its trappings while remaining true to the spirit, and often the dialogue, of the source. That starred Leonardo DiCaprio as well, and just as he was suited in his teen idol phase to the character of Romeo, his older, serious thespian persona was appropriate for Gatsby.
Whether you accepted DiCaprio as quite the heavyweight those casting him in their movies did was up for debate, as that sense of a performer curiously, slightly out of his depth was present in his stylings, but here that turned out to be a bonus to play a character who was not all he pretended to be. There were grumblings from the purists about Luhrmann's choices, such as the soundtrack which included hip-hop, but they could satisfy themselves by returning to the book, the rest of us would be more intrigued by what the director was saying about the parallels between this movie's modern era and The Roaring Twenties. Not that the Jazz Age depicted was entirely without jazz, but its impressions were more borne of pop culture's conceptions than they were slavishly accurate.
You might wish they'd got the telephones right, however. Anyway, the intention was patently to render the past as vibrantly as the viewer saw the present, if indeed they saw it vibrantly at all, though Luhrmann wasn't going to stoop to the crass when he could allow his actors to do their best with the material. The book ended up seeing a boost in sales thanks to the 2013 blockbuster as not only were potential punters interested in reading the original to compare it with the movie, but they were attracted by that mix of high reputation and a quick, easy and absorbing page turner, this being one classic which was fairly easy to grasp and be affected by. The question was that with all the bells and whistles of the movie, and there were plenty of those, did that translate to a two hour plus running time or would you end up with a lumbering behemoth?
In truth, what was nimble on the page was elephantine on the screen, though thankfully not because the actors had been instructed to go over the top. As the story progresses Luhrmann stripped away the lavish parties and swooping crane shots (many computer generated visuals) that would lend themselves so well to the 3D effects, and had the film concentrate increasingly on the fragile emotions of the players. Gatsby pines for Daisy (Carey Mulligan) across the bay, who is the wife of Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a brash man of action blessed with old money which Daisy is happy to take advantage of, and believes her cousin Nick can help out in getting Gatsby close to her. But is this wealthy yet enigmatic chap one it's wise to know? The public's delight with the idea that personalities might have a dark side or vulnerability was not new to the twenty-first century, or if it wasn't delight their media was going to be stuffed with it regardless, but Luhrmann cannily tapped into that mindset here. The trouble was his dry and thudding, not profound, dramatics dragging the good time gloss down. Music by Craig Armstrong.
Australian writer and director with an ebullient, emotion-packed sensibility for his films. He started out in the business as an actor, appearing for a spell in his homeland's soap behemoth A Country Practice before the ballroom dancing experiences of his parents prompted him to create the stage play and later film Strictly Ballroom. The movie was an international success and took him to Hollywood where he reinvigorated Shakespeare for teenagers in Romeo + Juliet and fashioned a musical tragedy in Moulin Rouge!, which either swept you up in its swoons and glitter or gave you a splitting headache. With three big hits under his belt, Luhrmann turned back to his origins and would-be blockbuster Australia, but it was judged a disappointment. His long planned a version of The Great Gatsby was released to mixed response in 2013, but was one of his biggest hits regardless.