F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is an American masterpiece characterised by its concision, subtlety and undercurrents of meaning. Baz Luhrmann's most decidedly is not. It is characterised by cinematic bombast and digital fireworks; Busby Berkeley choreography and head-on collisions between the aesthetics of the 1920s and the 2010s.
But they both dazzle in different ways: Fitzgerald with his sentences; Luhrmann, in the film's 3D presentation at least, by almost literally throwing glitter in your face. Its restlessness and its purposefully anachronistic mood are established early on, when the camera swoops violently from the top to the bottom of the Empire State Building and the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys song Empire State of Mind begins to play on the soundtrack – but doesn't even make it to the chorus.
No matter, the point is already made: this is a story about our times as much as it is about the Jazz Age. And it seems as though these establishing shots are barely over before Jay Gatsby is throwing the first of the lavish parties that are almost certainly what first attracted Luhrmann to re-tell the story. They are appropriately over-the-top and vulgar, and have the right dream-like quality.
But if there is a problem, it's that they are too meticulously choreographed, so that the party-goers don't have the free-wheeling carelessness that is supposedly their defining characteristic. Leonardo DiCaprio is ideally cast in the title role, having all of the necessary radiant swagger, as well as the crumpled but eternally boyish looks of a character who has refused to grow up.
It is somehow fitting that the actors around him don't shine as brightly. The film, on the other hand, shines in its moments of extravagant excess, but rings hollow in its scenes of sadness and tragedy, which makes for an underwhelming third act. When the party is over and all of the guests have left, we're supposed to see how depressingly soulless it had been, not wish to return there.Reuse content