A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
“The Great Gatsby”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale of decadent wealth and obsessive love unfortunately taps into director Baz Luhrmann’s own obsession with visual and sonic decadence.
Fortunately, the sheer power of Fitzgerald’s tragic tale and the magnificent talents of actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton rescue the Australian filmmaker’s version of “The Great Gatsby” before it crashes on the shoals of utter indulgence.
Deftly delivering Fitzgerald’s poetic prose, Tobey Maguire excels in the ordinarily thankless role of the story’s narrator, catalyst and observer, Nick Carraway, an aspiring writer who has moved to bustling New York City in 1922 to pursue a Wall Street career. The Yale graduate dwells in a modest cottage in Long Island’s fictional nouveau riche West Egg, next door to the glittery mansion of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who is famed for throwing riotous soirees that encapsulate the over-the-top excess of the Roaring Twenties, from the sparkle-festooned flappers and the intoxicating jazz music to the forbidden yet free-flowing booze and the giddily debauched behavior.
The typically aloof millionaire seeks out a friendship with Nick, who is dazzled by Gatsby’s brash style. As it turns out, Gatsby is still dazzled by Nick’s cousin Daisy (Mulligan), the capricious debutante he wooed before going off to fight in World War I. Gatsby enlists Nick’s help in carrying out an elaborate plan to reunite with Daisy, even though she has since married boorish old-money former athlete Tom Buchanan (Edgerton), who is more interested in partying with his working-class mistress (Isla Fisher) and studying white-supremacist rhetoric than spending time with his wife and rarely seen young daughter.
After an amusingly awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy rekindle their romance, and Nick begins to realize just how fixated his friend is with reviving the past and convincing Daisy to leave her husband and marry him. Unwittingly, Nick is pulled ever deeper into the shady secrets of his rich but miserable friends and family.
Fitzgerald’s cautionary tale of the American dream still resonates in this era of haves and have-nots, and Luhrmann’s hyper-surrealistic visual style and penchant for fusing period music with present-day pop compositions — the film showcases songs by Jay-Z, Beyonce, Lana Del Rey and more — occasionally lend the film a relatable urgency. More often, though, the noisy, candy-colored, confetti-sprinkled spectacle distracts from the timeless tale and bloats the runtime.
Luhrmann’s version of the often-adapted story looks and sounds stunning in high-definition, and the Blu-ray comes with a lavish array of bonus features, including several making-of featurettes, Maguire’s behind-the-scenes set tour, deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a trailer for the 1926 movie.