The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!
I can’t remember the last time a film took me by surprise quite as much as Baz Luhrmann’s lavish, lascivious adaptation of The Great Gatsby. If you’ve seen the marketing for the film you might think (as I did) that you know what to expect, but beyond all the glitz and spectacle, Luhrmann and his fantastic cast offer a faithful, enveloping and timely take on the greatest novel of the twentieth century.
Luhrmann’s unique vision of Gatsby gets off to such a rocky start that it’s tempting to write the film off. This is the film we saw in the trailers, where it feels like the director is retreating back to the past success of Moulin Rouge, tragically taking a treasured classic with him. Snatches of story are doled out amidst the chaos of the decadent backdrop, an attempt to disorient us alongside Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) that just doesn’t succeed. However just as it reaches insufferable limits, Luhrmann reigns in his most self-indulgent whims and lets F. Scott Fitzgerald take over.
Having a top-notch cast inhabit these iconic roles really brings out the power of the story, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Joel Edgerton in particular shine through Luhrmann’s bluster when he lets them, as he thankfully does for the second half of Gatsby. DiCaprio expertly juggles both sides of Jay Gatsby, transforming his enigmatic traits into insecurity and warped ambition, and Edgerton captures the brash entitlement of the vile Tom Buchanan wonderfully.
Luhrmann has never been known for his restraint, yet beyond the difficult opening act he manages to engage through story not style, even saving a stinging indictment of modern excess that hovers just out of reach right until the closing moments. Like the titular character himself, there’s much more to Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby below the surface.