“It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too!” – wrote Fitzgerald himself in The Great Gatsby. Baz Luhrmann’s version, the most recent in a long line of attempts, is worthy of this praise.
This is a book loved by many. It is a film that has been anticipated for well over a year. For these reasons, Lurhmann is probably well aware of the pressures.
The Great Gatsby tells the story of Midwesterner Nick’s arrival in New York, and the summer spent with his mysterious neighbour, nouveau-riche Jay Gatsby and his distant cousins, Daisy and Tom. On arrival, he is amazed by the sights and sounds of the big city and he is further intrigued by the lavish parties at Gatsby’s mansion. Unfortunately, before long, the glitz and glamour begin to fade and Nick finds himself drawn into a disastrous sequence of events.
Faithful fans of Fitzgerald’s classic will pick up on the rather artistic liberties Lurhmann has taken with their beloved novel - tweaks to quotes (including the opening line) and several extra scenes of Gatsby and Daisy’s love affair are the more obvious alterations. Luckily, the majority of the changes complement the story, rather than ruin it.
Previous adaptations of the classic have stumbled over certain areas such as Gatsby’s demeanour, the legendary parties or Daisy’s mannerisms. Luckily, DiCaprio and Mulligan star opposite each other perfectly with DiCaprio depicting Gatsby’s vulnerability and desperation. Mulligan manages to make Daisy as flawed as Fitzgerald intended, yet still sympathetic. Joel Edgerton steals the scene as ‘hulking’ Tom Buchanan. Luhrmann’s films are typically over-infused with colour and music but given the context of Nick’s narrative, here it makes sense.
The ‘Roaring Twenties’ of New York would have been exciting to an outsider and Luhrmann has clearly worked to recreate this experience for his audience. The sets are stunning; the mansions are works of art and Gatsby’s famous parties are huge and exciting - a tribute to the ‘Jazz Age’ Fitzgerald was living in. The costumes are equally as gorgeous with Daisy and Jordan covered in Tiffany’s custom-made jewellery.
Luhrmann made a daring choice with the soundtrack, enlisting rapper Jay-Z. He justified the move by referring to how Fitzgerald’s original novel featured ‘street music’ and how he wished to do the same. Unfortunately, several tracks are replayed over and over at points when perhaps new or different music would have been a wiser choice.
The film will amuse both old fans and new and will introduce Fitzgerald’s voice to a new generation. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will make you think.