F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ was published in 1925 and is regarded as one of the great novels of the twentieth century.
A slender volume (my Penguin is a mere 240 pages), it captured the essence of the times while also finding the elusive pulse of the eternally desirous human condition.
Stylistically it is cool, measured and crystal clear. By comparison, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of it is as subtle as a sequin-coated crowbar. Nobody, however, expected anything less and, rather than be alarmist in criticising its excess, what we should take into account is that Luhrmann, as something of an arriviste himself and striving to be ‘great’ by dent of his cinematic deeds, might be exactly the right man to reinterpret Jay Gatsby ninety years down the track.
As is his wont, music (from Gershwin to hip-hop) is used as a bombardment but he has not taken the story out of period, as he did with ‘Romeo And Juliet’ (to many it remains his finest film), paying meticulous attention to costumes and cars etc.
When it was announced, the decision to shoot in 3D seemed an odd one, given the book’s restraint, but the format is spectacularly successful in creating the scale and opulence of Gatsby’s world. And, in any case, it’s a given that if 5D with sense-around and double-cream topping were available, Luhrmann would have been up for that as well. Which is, for mine, his major failing. Why somebody so obviously gifted in his craft should want to always gild the lily is a mystery. I’d like to see him work on a project with a couple of zeros cut off the budget – but that’s a matter of taste.
Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t quite do it for me as Gatsby, appearing to be a boy sent on a man’s errand, but Carey Mulligan is fantastic as Daisy. If you know how it ends you’ll probably be wishing for a fast-forward button, but, though overblown and milked for melodrama, I didn’t mind it at all.