I have not been a fan of director Baz Luhrmann from day one. I was completely underwhelmed by Strictly Ballroom; managed to miss his take on Romeo and Juliet; and his epic Valentine to his home country, Australia, was as turgid and unwatchable as just about anything can be. Until I got to Moulin Rouge, which was thoroughly annoying to the point it was one of the few films that had me heading to the exit long before it was over. Needless to say, that track record had me anticipating The Great Gatsby with the same joy as a day at the dentist. Imagine my surprise when I watched the entire film without a twitch, or a fidget, or a glance at the time. I really liked it.
Yes, a lot of The Great Gatsby is full of glitz and razzle-dazzle, but there’s also the story as written by F. Scott Fitzgerald that is about as good as it gets. It’s a mystery, a love story, and the defining moment of an entire generation during one of the most turbulent times in American history. Gatsby is an enigma to everyone, much like Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane. Is he a genius? Is he a thug? Or is he something else entirely. No matter who or what Gatsby is, he is totally obsessed with lost love Daisy Buchanan, now married to a despicable rogue.
This version of the oft-told tale is layered with style, and while some people are put off by what they hear about that style, I was mesmerized. Yes, Luhrmann continues his penchant for using contemporary music in a period setting, but here it’s much more subtle than in Moulin Rouge. The soundtrack pulses with period tunes, classical pieces, a really nice original score, and occasionally segues into some contemporary music with such efficacy as to be transitionally smooth and not jarring. Others are aghast that The Great Gatsby has been filmed in 3-D, but the extra dimension really opens up the film to give it, both literally and figuratively, an added depth. There are a few stunt scenes to show off the process, but they are not a distraction from the story. And after sitting through all two hours twenty-two minutes, virtually mesmerized by what I was seeing, I was left wanting more.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives a career-best performance, so far, as Gatsby. Daisy is given life by Carey Mulligan, and she is terrific in the role. And Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, the observer and teller of the tale of Gatsby, has moved beyond his Spiderman years. Craig Armstrong’s original score is excellent, as is Simon Duggan’s cinematography.
But one of the real stars of the film is Catherine Martin, who did the production and costume design. The look captures the era perfectly. The art direction and set decoration are equally breathtaking.
Despite preconceived notions about why you may not like The Great Gatsby, put all those things away for another film and immerse yourself in one of the best movie surprises I’ve seen in a long, long time.
And it’s worth the added effort, and yes, the added ticket price, to see it in 3-D. The Great Gatsby makes the best use of this format since Martin Scorsese’s wonderful HUGO, and has the potential to make new fans for the process.
The PG-13 rated The Great Gatsby is now showing pretty much everywhere in both 2-D and 3-D formats.