The Great Gatsby, from the opening sequence until the finale, is undoubtedly a Baz Luhrmann film. Luhrmann’s signature style oozes from every scene, with all its glitz, glamour and gusto.
An adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby is the story of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a naïve Midwesterner who moves to Long Island. Soon after his arrival, Carraway is befriended by his elusive neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a wealthy eccentric with a penchant for wild parties who happens to be in love with Carraway’s married cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). After enjoying the lavish and frivolous lifestyle offered to him by Gatsby, it’s not long before Carraway begins to see the cracks in Gatsby’s perfect existence.
The Great Gatsby is like one huge party from start to finish. It is absolutely jam-packed with stars, right down to the modernised soundtrack (a Lurhmann standard) that features Jay-Z, Florence and the Machine and Lana Del Rey. Although not one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s most challenging or groundbreaking roles, he is the star of the show alongside Carey Mulligan’s brilliant portrayal of Daisy Buchanan, a woman superficial to the very core. Meanwhile, Tobey Maguire, with his typical wide-eyed naivety, is really a non-character. Nick Carraway seems to be little more than a plot mechanism to bring the other characters together and keep the momentum going with the help of some cheesy narration.
With such a talented cast, it is a shame that Lurhmann didn’t abandon a little of the needless glitz to focus more on the characters and their complexities. DiCaprio, arguably one the greatest actors in Hollywood at the moment, was wasted in this film; his acting ability exceeds the demands of the role by miles. Perhaps to distract from the film’s lack of depth, Lurhmann goes heavy on the style. The swanky lifestyle of the Long Island elite is echoed in the vibrancy and spectacle of every shot, and the excessive use of sweeping slow-motion and stylish editing; not to mention the pointless use of 3D.
Gatsby is really a story about attainment – Jay Gatsby has devoted most of his life to attaining status and wealth, to the extent that the grit of 1920s New York is reduced to a blur as he speeds past in his bright yellow motor-car on route to the next exclusive party. The downfall of the film is that Lurhmann may have taken this superficiality too seriously – so much so that the film is lacking in depth and, in the end, it is difficult to feel much for any of the characters. Lurhmann’s Gatsby may be energetic, colourful and fun; but essentially it is a shallow film about shallow people.