The Great Gatsby is Hollywood’s sixth attempt to capture, on screen, the magic that author F. Scott Fitzgerald painted with words in the 1925 classic of the same name. And it feels like they’ve finally gotten it right. Gatsby stays true to Fitzgerald’s original text, while still promising enough updates to keep moviegoers engaged in the story, even if they already know it by heart.
Gatsby tells the story of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception), as told through the eyes of his neighbor, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, Spiderman). The movie opens in New York’s West Egg in the summer of 1922. Carraway, a Yale graduate and a World War I veteran, has moved to New York to try his hand at the bond business. One day, he receives an invitation to attend one of Gatsby’s world famous parties. There he meets the man behind the countless rumors- an extraordinarily wealthy business man, war hero, and “Oxford Man.” Slowly he finds himself befriending Gatsby and being lured into his world, where he is privy to countless secrets, hidden for years behind the lights and laughter of Gatsby’s West Egg parties.
DiCaprio’s performance is outstanding, capturing every part of the complex Jay Gatsby. He doesn’t simply play the wealthy business man; he plays the flawed human being beneath the self-made persona. Tobey Maguire also plays a convincing Nick Carraway, a man “within and without” the world that the likes of Gatsby call home.
Director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo & Juliet) took a risk with this one, putting his own spin on the well known story. Luhrmann may face the wrath of millions of shocked fans of the classic novel for his choice to frame Carraway’s narration in a new and distinctive way but, regardless, the twist seemed to work.
What diehard fans of the novel won’t complain about it is the consistent preservation of many of Fitzgerald’s beloved words in the screenplay. One particular exchange between Gatsby and Carraway- in which Carraway says that you “can’t repeat the past,” while Gatsby replies “of course you can,”- is kept in its entirety, among other quotes from the book.
The movie feels fresh thanks to the incorporation of current music into the 1920’s period piece, Baz Luhrmann style. A trademark of the director, this unique style is also seen in Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! and Romeo & Juliet. In the film’s opening scene, clips of 1920’s Wall Street are stitched together with Jay-Z’s No Church in the Wild playing in the background, and it all flows together seamlessly. Other artists who showcased their talent on the soundtrack include Florence + the Machine, Jack White, Lana Del Rey, and Beyoncé, and each of them seems to fit perfectly into the glamorous world of the Jazz Age.
The only questionable choice was filming the movie in 3D. The visual gimmick did not take away from the experience, but it didn’t seem to add much to it either. It really isn’t worth a premium ticket price to have DiCaprio’s face feel a little bit closer to you, or for the confetti and his parties to rain inches nearer to your head.
But Luhrmann’s distinctive directing style, along with an A-List cast and a loyalty to the story make The Great Gatsby both a great film and a great interpretation of the novel. This fresh take on a beloved classic is well worth the price of a ticket.
3.5 stars out of 4. MPAA rating PG-13. Running time 143 minutes.