“Jay, you can’t repeat the past,” says Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). “Can’t repeat the past? Of course you can,” responds Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) to his one and only true friend in Baz Luhrmann’s screen version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel The Great Gatsby.
Nick Carraway has left the Midwest for New York to make his fortune in the stock market in the spring of 1922. He’s moved next door to the mysterious, party-throwing, wealthy stranger known as Gatsby. Nick is also right across the way from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
After watching the extravagant parties from afar, Nick finally gets invited to one of Gatsby’s famous parties and, of course, attends. He finds himself dazzled and amazed by the glitz and glamour that’s part of this world of the incredibly rich. It’s then that Nick meets his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, and quickly becomes his friend. It’s not just by chance or even curiosity that Gatsby invited Nick but because he needs his help to get close to the one person he deeply, truly loves…Daisy.
So, Nick gets tangled up in the web of wealth, power, and romance created by Gatsby whose goal is simply to win back the only woman he ever loved and build a life with her in the center of it.
More spectacle than substance, Baz Luhrmann’s big screen version of The Great Gatsby is all glitz but has no real depth or soul. The film looks wonderful and captures the feel and style of the 1920s with its costumes, cars, set design, and the use of real footage from the era. And Leonardo DiCaprio is a solid Gatsby, showing his infatuation with Daisy and the growing friendship with Nick which becomes more important to him than he could ever have imagined. But Gatsby is still a character the audience never really connects with or gets to care about. He’s a mystery never fully revealed, and even though Nick finds a true friendship with him, the audience is left distant and out in the cold.
Carey Mulligan delivers a strong performance as Daisy, the spoiled, selfish young lady who’s cast a spell on Gatsby and who enjoys playing at love rather than growing up and committing to a real adult romantic relationship. She has solid chemistry with DiCaprio and their scenes as estranged lovers who never got over each other are effective.
Tobey Maguire comes up short as the wide-eyed storyteller whose real purpose in the film is to reveal Gatsby and his world to the audience and to help reunite his cousin Daisy with Jay. The scene after he realizes he forgot all about his own birthday by getting caught up in Gatsby, Daisy, and their crowd’s affairs – and finds all of them shallow – is empty and weak due to Maguire’s performance. It’s through Nick’s eyes that the audience is supposed to see this world is filled with shallow, superficial, self-absorbed people and it’s only Gatsby whose intentions and outlook on life is one of hope and love. This is barely accomplished by the voice-over by Maguire who sounds as though he’s having a hard time staying awake.
Baz Luhrmann’s direction is once again loud, brass, and overblown, but he does back off on incorporating modern music into The Great Gatsby, inserting only a few contemporary songs into the party scenes and relying on music of the era to help the audience get the feeling of what New York was like among the rich in 1922. The use of 3D in the film does have an affect on the audience with the snow seeming to fall around you and at times the Rolls Royce speeding right by you, but it’s not enough to merit spending the extra few dollars to see.
Bright, glitzy, but soulless, The Great Gatsby is a film that unfortunately ends up being just as shallow and empty as the people and the generation F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to expose in his classic novel.
The Great Gatsby is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.