Leonardo DiCaprio is back on the big screen, this time in director Baz Luhrmann’s production of “The Great Gatsby,” based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.
In the film, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to New York to become a bond salesman. He winds up living in a tiny shack next to the richest man on Long Island. That would be Gatsby (DiCaprio), a mythical, mysterious figure who is revealed to Nick to be just a man who is in love with Nick’s second cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). She’s married, but Nick becomes embroiled in Gatsby’s attempt to win back his former flame.
For me, the biggest triumph of this film is the subtle sinister edge on the fringe of all the decadence. It is said that Fitzgerald predicted the 1929 stock market crash when “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925, and I could feel that impending darkness throughout the new film.
I’m also thrilled that Gatsby lives again for a new generation, and there were some brilliant casting choices here. Real life friends DiCaprio and Maguire have great chemistry. DiCaprio reveals Gatsby’s obsession for Daisy better probably than any actor before him. Jason Clarke’s brief scenes as Wilson are a revelation. And Joel Edgerton does a fine job as Tom Buchanan.
There were also plenty of problems, however. I don’t mind Luhrmann modernizing the film’s soundtrack. It must have been very daunting to make the roaring 20s seem modern to today’s youth. What I did miss were little historical details like women literally dancing their stockings off.
My biggest turn-offs had to do with character development and missing scenes. It’s impossible not to refer back to Robert Redford’s Gatsby in the 1974 adaptation. Luhrmann cuts a few of Myrtle’s best lines. In the Redford film, which had a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, there’s a scene where Gatsby is confronted with Daisy’s daughter, no doubt realizing it won’t be so easy for the woman he loves to leave her family for him. This was cut from the current version, as was the main confrontation between Daisy and Gatsby where he finally asks her why she didn’t wait for him. Wouldn’t you say that was kind of important?
Also, I was stumped by a Gatsby who would invite so much immorality into his life to win Daisy, yet never realized she, too, must be fleeting, frivolous and immoral.
Luhrmann makes up a backstory for Gatsby that isn’t in the book, which was downright sacrilegious to me, more so because it was ineffective. Daisy was a little unfinished, and the director muddies up the purity of Nick, too. I like Nick as the clean, unsullied contrast to his new rich friends. It was weird to see him drunk and ending up in a sanitarium, which, by the way, also isn’t Nick’s fate in the novel.
It was a good effort and I was glad to visit these characters again, so … I’m a little bit of a fan.