Friday, May 24, 2013

The Great Gatsby

  • Released Internationally on 10/05/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 25/05/13
Preview (as published 01/05/13 in VIDA Magazine)

This cinematic summer, amidst all the inevitable sequels, prequels and reboots, there are a few standalone giants to look forward to. And there’s no prize for guessing which will be the most lavish, colourful and all-round spectacular. Baz Luhrmann is back.

The man behind one of the best films of the millennium so far (Moulin Rouge!) is now bringing his unique brand of vivid craziness to one of the all-time great stories - F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous tale of society and excess. That the story still resonates nearly a century after its publication is a testament to its relevance, and it has already been adapted numerous times before - most famously in 1974 by Francis Ford Coppola, with Robert Redford in the title role.

Luhrmann teamed up with his regular writing partner Craig Pearce, who had also helped him with the highly original adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Another returning collaborator from that huge success is Leonardo DiCaprio, who has of course grown in both age and star stature since then, and who will portray the exuberant Gatsby. The narrator role goes to Tobey Maguire (Spider-man), with Carey Mulligan (Drive, An Education) starring as the lovely Daisy who is swept up into Gatsby’s party world. Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers), Joel Edgerton and Jason Clarke (both recently seen in Zero Dark Thirty) also star.

As with every Luhrmann film, music will be a key player, and for this outing the director enlisted a host of stars, led by superstar rapper Jay-Z, to oversee the music. How the music will reflect the 1920s setting remains to be seen, but for the man who brought Fatboy Slim to the can-can shows of Paris that shouldn’t be a problem. The trailers have so far been stunningly beautiful, and I can’t wait to see this on a massive screen.

Review (24/05/13)
3-word review: Quite Great Indeed.

Anyone sitting down to watch this and expecting a somber, reverential adaptation of the classic should know better. This is Baz Luhrmann, so everything needs to be gorgeous, everything needs to be operatic, and everything needs to sparkle. Thankfully, this is a story that works wonderfully with the Baz treatment.

Purists might balk at the hip-hop sounds that are heard in early twentieth-century New York, and conservatives might have reservations about the unabashed portrayal of ridiculous excess which jars substantially in these times of preached austerity. But ultimately the seamless blend of music genres works wonderfully throughout the film, and the depiction of the absurdity of excess wealth helps drive the story’s message home. Because beneath all the sequins and within all the mansions, this is a timeless tale of wealth, and whether it alone is enough to make a man, irrespective of whether it was inherited, earned or dubiously earned. And as with most tales of the rich, it is also a careful analysis of fair-weather friends and the abuses of hospitality that ensue. The tour of Gatsby’s house, as crafted in this adaptation, manages to be both a beautifully whimsical montage whilst still highlighting the disgusting excess of it all. It’s a fine balance, but Luhrmann pulls it off with aplomb.

DiCaprio, who can’t seem to make any bad films, is a joy to behold as the titular bachelor and legendary party host. He dominates every scene he’s in, also thanks to the masters in the wardrobe department. More importantly, he manages to convey the paralysing insecurity and doubt that is central to his character, as well as all the other problems that us non-billionaires secretly hope the rich face. And he manages to drive the story forward thanks to his very convincing interpretation of Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy.

Daisy, the main female character and the cause of most of the events in the film, gets a very slightly disappointing turnout from Carey Mulligan, but it was always going to be a tall order to manage to be the woman that can fuel such obsession. To help her along, Luhrmann orchestrates one of the most visually magical character introductions I can remember - an introduction that is then topped a few minutes later when we first meet Gatsby. These two scenes, along with a handful of others throughout the film, are such a perfect marriage of colour, acting, set design, music and imagination, they remind us why we head to dark cinemas and gaze up in amazement.

It’s not all fireworks and champagne, of course, and the filmmakers treat the source matter with respect, including a clever nod to the novel’s first cover, carefully watching over proceedings on the road to ruin. Tobey Maguire’s narrator gives us someone to identify with in all this craziness, and he skillfully guides us through the tale with the benefit of hindsight. His arrival at the party to end all parties is a joy to behold, and it’s great that we have him to cling onto.

Ultimately, it’s an excellent story, very well told. Luhrmann’s unique brand of storytelling charges fiercely on, and I for one hope it never fades. It’s not as overall excellent as Moulin Rouge! or Romeo + Juliet, but it’s a huge step up from his more recent Australia, and easily one of the best films of the year so far.



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