Baz Luhrmann’s latest visual extravaganza The Great Gatsby caused mixed reactions. Based on the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald and set in the 1920s, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby with co-stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy the centre of Gatsby’s affections, Tobey Maguire as her cousin Nick, Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s cheating husband Tom, Isla Fisher as Tom’s lover Myrtle and Elizabeth Debicki as Daisy’s best friend and golfing pro, Jordan Baker.
The Great Gatsby is a story of love, lies, obsession and social class. Set in New York in the summer of 1922 when Wall Street is booming, liquor is cheap and everyone wants to party hard – and party they do in the film with many scenes dedicated to showing opulent, decadent, extravagant shin-digs hosted at Gatsby’s mansion.
Taking the role of the story’s narrator, Nick (Maguire), recounts moving into the small house next door to the mysterious Gatsby in his large mansion. We learn that his cousin Daisy lives directly across the bay, where the green light pulses at night (metaphorical for his envy no doubt), in an ‘old money’ mansion (and money is the root of all evil in this saga) and that Nick’s work selling bonds on Wall Street is pretty mundane until he is invited to one of Gatsby’s extravaganzas.
As with all of Luhrmann’s films, the soundtrack is an interesting mix of artists, this time featuring the likes of Kanye West, Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey and Jack White and, while a little incongruous to the 1920s setting at times, it does add another talking point to the film. (It certainly doesn’t beat his Romeo and Juliet soundtrack for me though!)
DiCaprio makes a ‘great Gatsby’, showing the right mix of mystery, aloofness and obsession. Although I did start to wear at his continuous “Hey, old sport” line but that’s more a fault of the script than DiCaprio! Thankfully the film’s visual beauty makes up for what is a basic plot line with characters who are, in essence, a shallow pack of self-serving prats! The prosaic language of Fitzgerald is not so prominent in this script either. There are moments when words flash and dissolve across the screen but nothing is left really leaving its mark.
The costumes, set designs and overall visual aesthetic were beautifully crafted (the genius of Catherine Martin yet again!) and provided a lot of stimulation throughout the movie which it needed, as the plot line with Gatsby’s obsession in getting back his one true love Daisy, and her self-gratifying indecision and greed, got a little tiresome towards the end.
What I did love was seeing a lot of Australian actors making appearances such as Barry Otto as Benny McClenahan, Steve Bisley as Dan Cody, Vince Colosimo as Michaelis, Jack Thompson as Dr Walter Perkins, Nick Tate as the Taxi Driver, Max Cullen as Owl-Eyes and Richard Carter as Gatsby’s right-hand man Herzog amongst others. Luhrmann gets a big tick for using local talent on and off the screen. With a Film and TV industry that is always calling for finance and new productions to be made here it’s great to see Bazmark Inc utilising Australia as well as the USA in this production.
While The Great Gatsby doesn’t beat Stricly Ballroom (Quintessentially an Australian comedic drama) or Romeo and Juliet (the best modern Shakespearian interpretations – ever!) for me as Baz Luhrmann’s best films to date, I also acknowledge Luhrmann and his talented team, including the wonderful Catherine Martin, in taking risks and trying to push the boundaries in terms of blending theatre and cinema, as in many respects I felt this film was an overly stylized theatre performance. However, instead of the trademark Red Curtains used in earlier films we have wonderful Art Deco graphics opening and closing this film.
Whatever your thoughts, Luhrmann and Bazmark Inc always produce films that are food for thought and worth seeing, if only to support the Australian film industry!