Visionary Australian director Baz Luhrmann is the first film-maker in almost 40 years bold enough to commit F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel to the big screen.
The man who reinvented Romeo + Juliet, and took us into the crazy Bohemian world of Moulin Rouge, brings his distinctive style and youthful energy to a story of smouldering passions in swinging 1920s New York.
It’s an eye-catching, glittery take on the twisting tale, without a single iota of subtlety.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays mysterious millionaire war hero Jay Gatsby, who is famed for throwing the most lavish and decadent parties for the social elite. Everyone wants to be close to him.
Lowly stockbroker Nick Carraway (Maguire) is among those drawn into Gatsby’s orbit thanks to his friendship with golfer Jordan Baker (Debicki), his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Edgerton).
As Nick gets to know Gatsby and is allowed into the rich man’s inner circle, he discovers heartbreak in the millionaire’s murky history.Past and present collide, and Nick begins to bear witness to the poisoning of friendships by jealousy and forbidden desire.
Last time The Great Gatsby hit cinemas back in 1974, it won Oscars for its music and its visual style, but the relationship between Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was rather frigid.
The only F-word you can throw at this latest incarnation is frenetic.
It’s the sort of opulent movie that a person like Gatsby himself would doubtless make; a positive smorgasbord of cinematic visual treats.
But it’s far too long, and the first 20 minutes are a poorly structured mess.
Stick with it, though, and you’ll be rewarded by a movie which, at the very least, lingers in the memory banks.
Students of the original source material will find themselves divided.
Bits of the original dialogue are retained intact as Maguire’s wide-eyed innocent narrates the story in flashback, having been left needing therapy for his depression and alcoholism – an neat slant on all the out-of-control drinking going on.
There are other nods to 21st century social issues too, most notably in the soundtrack department, which pulses to the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé and will.i.am.
It’s the classic George Gershwin number Rhapsody in Blue which works best of all, though, as the perfectly indulgent accompaniment to one of Gatsby’s most elaborate, firework-laden society parties. The all singing, all dancing special effects work is typically psychedelic, but at times feels slightly preposterous.
DiCaprio turns in a decent performance in the title role, though – in fact, it’s difficult to think who else could have been cast in such a drama.
Carey Mulligan gives us a soft and gentle vulnerability, sparking flashes of chemistry with her leading man amidst all the overwhelming pyrotechnics.
But – and this is probably the most damning thing to say about a film which goes out of its way to look so opulent – the whole thing still feels rather underwhelming.
For all the pomp and pageantry, the magical mansions, the colourful clothing, it lacks a sense of playful fun.
Great Gatsby? That would be over-selling it. Let’s settle for a Good Gatsby, in places.