Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire. Written by Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce from the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. PG. 143 min. Opens May 10.
While the many paradoxes of The Great Gatsby have been the bane of countless high-school students facing deadlines on papers about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s romantic tragedy, they have a liberating effect on Baz Luhrmann. The Moulin Rouge! director feels there’s nothing amiss in mounting such a brazenly opulent vision of Jazz Age decadence—complete with product placements by Tiffany and Moët & Chandon—while retaining Fitzgerald’s chastening observations about wealth’s inability to provide what we often need the most.
Nor does Luhrmann see anything contradictory in presenting the titular millionaire playboy (played with great verve by Leonardo DiCaprio) as an incorruptible romantic hero and a pitiable nervous wreck. Of course, Gatsby has always been hard to read, even to Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), the self-appointed chronicler who moves next door to Gatsby’s Long Island mansion, where Manhattan’s prohibition-era elite come to swill booze and shimmy to jazz renditions of Beyoncé and Amy Winehouse songs. (Supervised by Jay-Z, the soundtrack thrives on the same kind of anachronisms that filled Moulin Rouge!)
But Gatsby’s dazzling world of glamour and excess only exists for the purpose of attracting Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the former flame who’s now married to the brutish Tom (Joel Edgerton), an old-money cad. Cracks have formed in Gatsby’s perfect façade well before that world is destroyed by ugly secrets and unattainable desires.
Along with the movie’s musical accompaniment and 3-D–enhanced staging, Luhrmann’s audacious tactics include emphasizing the tale’s racial dimensions. (He even casts Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan as Jewish gangster Meyer Wolfsheim.) Yet for all of its flash, the movie aims for the utmost sincerity as a grand love story. Alas, Luhrmann doesn’t quite have Fitzgerald’s finesse when it comes to handling the shift between gilt-edged satire and heart-rending pathos. Then again, does it really matter that the party goes sour when the rest of
the night is so swellegant?