Filmmakers today face an incredible challenge in Hollywood’s remake culture – they are tasked with recycling ideas, or films from days past – and comparing to, or daring to surpass, their predecessors. For Australian director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet), tackling The Great Gatsby presented inherent challenges, because of the 1974 version’s reputation. Luhrmann not only met the challenge, he surpassed it and created a more spectacular, contemporized and beautiful version of an enduring story.
Like the novel, penned by F. Scott-Fitzgerald in 1925, Luhrmann’s adaptation recounts the summer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a World War I veteran, met Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire, in New York. Told through flashback narration, Carraway describes the drama, opulence, and romance surrounding his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) – his neighbor, Gatsby – and American culture during the roaring twenties.
The Great Gatsby is a spectacle in its attempt to capture, or recreate, the Jazz-age spirit of the time. Its decadent sets and shimmering, [then] daring costumes create an escapist, immersive, and desirable world – one only known to idealist minds. It’s a romanticized vision with sometimes breathtaking allure, a feature accentuated by music.
Produced by Jay-Z and featuring the work of composer Craig Armstrong, The Great Gatsby boasts one of the most memorable and engaging soundtracks and scores since last year’s Cloud Atlas. Initially, Jay-Z’s involvement seemed questionable, but once audiences hear the constantly intertwining score and soundtrack, Gatsby’s audial appeal becomes apparent. Its images are highlighted by reflective sounds fluctuating between sensuality, vivacity, tenderness, and danger. “Together,” an original composition performed by The XX, is one of the defining songs of the film, and is the backdrop for one of the most visceral, and memorable scenes of the entire movie.
Complimentary to the sounds are the performances of Gatsby’s core actors, particularly Leonardo DiCaprio. In the title role DiCaprio exudes charisma and the “hope” his character is referenced as possessing. He’s a charming, mysterious, and desirable millionaire with a murky past and sort of wide-eyed innocence – he’s a proper gentleman, by all definitions of the word and mannerism. DiCaprio fuses the role to himself – he becomes Gatsby – and delivers a quieter, more reserved performance. This DiCaprio had been evasive in recent years, working with harsher, louder roles (Blood Diamond, The Departed) – but his softer, more attractive ambiance began its resurgence last year, with the supporting role of “Calvin Candie” from Django Unchained, and is on full display through his leading portrayal of Jay Gatsby.
Supporting cast members contribute additional appeal for the period and environment, most notably Isla Fisher as “Myrtle Wilson.” Fisher is almost unrecognizable in her role and showcases her ability to be a dramatic actress. Some of her attractiveness in this role is physical, but Fisher transcends that, and thrives in this world to generate interest in a subplot that could have been disengaging and felt unnecessary. By design and through commitment, Myrtle Wilson becomes a central figure to the “secret” story.
The Great Gatsby also stars Joel Edgerton (as “Tom Buchanan,” the antagonist) and Elizabeth Debicki (as “Jordan Baker,” Daisy’s best friend) and features additional music from Beyonce, Gotye, Lana Del Ray, Jack White, Florence + the Machine, and more. Gatsby runs 143 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual images, smoking, partying, brief language, and some violence.