In the case of this film, perhaps great is too strong of a word. Maybe “The Good Gatsby” would be more appropriate.
For those who slept through high school English, “The Great Gatsby” was originally a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, first published in 1925. Set in Long Island, New York in 1922, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is the story’s narrator. He is a war veteran who moves to New York from the Midwest to sell bonds in a booming market.
He buys a house in the village of West Egg, which consists mainly of millionaires. Carraway’s neighbor is none other than Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the renowned party thrower.
Directed by the heavily criticized Baz Luhrmann of “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” fame, he shows us that you can indeed repeat the past. Luhrmann’s take on “Gatsby” rings as somewhat of a greatest hits compilation.
Just like “Romeo + Juliet,” he uses dialogue verbatim from the novel. Having just reread the novel, I can attest that much of the screenplay is comprised of Fitzgerald’s original dialogue, for better or worse.
Similar to his attempt at a musical with 1998’s “Moulin Rouge,” Luhrmann’s soundtrack is full of anachronistic songs. In perhaps his most perplexing decision, the rap music in the trailer is not just there for promotional purposes, it is actually in the movie.
The era of the 1920s could easily provide a memorable score, but Luhrmann instead chooses to rely on the recognition factor. Not everyone would think to add music from rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter to a story set in the ‘20s, but Luhrmann does. Or perhaps it was not his choice at all, seeing as Jay-Z is an executive producer on the film.
Luhrmann has a style, and he sticks with it here, this time in needless 3D. His version of “Gatsby” is heavily stylized. It walks right up to the edge of being overly so, but stops right before taking that jump.
What does not work in the film certainly has nothing to do with DiCaprio, who remind everyone why he is a movie star. In his role as the title character, he delivers an emotional performance that helps this film rise above its director.
Honestly, he saves this picture. While Luhrmann seemingly tries to get in the way, DiCaprio delivers a performance that keeps the film in check. He was the perfect choice for such an important and tragic character.
Much of the casting is spot on. Carey Mulligan plays Daisy Buchanan, Carraway’s second cousin and the object of Gatsby’s affection. She is equal parts alluring and frustrating, expertly maneuvering the conflicted nature of character.
The only suspect casting is Maguire as Carraway. Due to the by-the-book nature Luhrmann chose to stick to, Carraway narrates the whole film, a task Maguire is not entirely fit for. Maguire can be good, but in this role, he comes off a bit on the whiney side. That is a problem when you considering how large of a role he plays in the film.
Despite all the questionable cinematic choices from the writer/director, the acting makes this is a solid adaptation of one of the great American novels. But it is indeed clear that the film could have been better in a different director’s hands.
“The Great Gatsby,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language. Running time: 142 minutes. B