The Great Gatsby review: Long, gaudy and flawed, but there is much to admire in Baz Luhrmann’s stonking lack of subtlety

3.00

Leonardo DiCaprio segues with utter conviction in the title role, from the suave, semi-mythical party host to his neurotic, lovelorn alter ego and back again

Los Angeles

Any great book’s transition to the screen is greeted with a degree of sanctimony, but perhaps none more so than The Great Gatsby, the title most frequently deemed the Great American Novel.

Every reader of F Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated 1925 work has an idea of how it ought to be filmed, and many think it ought not to be filmed at all. So who better to adapt this revered classic than Hollywood’s least pious director, Baz Luhrmann? Few will be shocked to learn that Luhrmann’s version of Fitzgerald’s short, spare, near-perfect novel is long, gaudy and flawed. If you don’t care for his previous films, you’ll find little in the way of pleasant surprises here. But if you can abide the Australian’s lurid, hyperactive style, then there is much to admire nonetheless.

Written and set in the Roaring Twenties, Gatsby tells the story of a man who ruthlessly chases wealth, ultimately in pursuit of love, only to learn that one can’t buy the other. Luhrmann’s taste is as garish as his hero’s, and for much of its running time, his film is an intoxicating cocktail of colour, lights and noise: outlandish party scenes, fantastical New York cityscapes. It is crass and superficial – and, yes, it’s often difficult to decide whether the director is exposing the hollowness of the era’s decadence, or simply fetishising the suits.

Fitzgerald’s prose is first introduced as a voiceover, explained by establishing scenes of Tobey Maguire as narrator Nick Carraway, whom Luhrmann portrays as an alcoholic in rehab, typing his recollections on the advice of a kindly therapist. At times the text literally appears onscreen, super-imposed, as if to assure us of the director’s adherence to his source material. In many instances, sentences from the book are edited and employed reverently and skilfully by Luhrmann and his co-writer Craig Pearce. But when the screenwriters insert their clunky attempts to emulate Fitzgerald’s lyricism, the disparity is surely audible, even to those who haven’t read the original.

There is further evidence of Luhrmann’s stonking lack of subtlety in the title character’s first appearance onscreen, which comes accompanied by the climactic bars of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. Is there any more blundering signifier of the Jazz Age? The musical selections – a mix of period pieces and contemporary mash-ups – are only intermittently successful. Notably, Lana Del Rey’s track, “Young and Beautiful”, is put to good effect on more than one occasion, to accompany the deterioration of Daisy and Gatsby’s romance.

The cast is strong and cohesive, with Carey Mulligan maintaining just the right level of shallowness in her portrayal of Daisy, and Joel Edgerton entirely convincing as her rich, racist, bullying husband Tom Buchanan. Maguire is a sympathetic guide through the action – perhaps the only sympathetic character in the whole darn picture – while the most memorable supporting turns come from Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke as the Wilsons, a working class couple whose lives intersect with the idle rich, to tragic effect.

The most compelling thing in the movie, though, is Leonardo DiCaprio, in the title role, who segues with utter conviction from the suave, semi-mythical party host to his neurotic, lovelorn alter ego. DiCaprio plays James Gatz playing Jay Gatsby, in a performance that might justifiably have earned him an Oscar nod, had the film hit its originally planned release date late last year. Now, instead, it is in summer blockbuster territory, straddled by superheroes such as Iron Man. But while the likes of Tony Stark transform themselves from billionaire playboys into altruistic vigilantes, Gatz chooses instead to become the billionaire playboy, Gatsby: another variety of American superhero.

Luhrmann’s take on Fitzgerald’s tale may be the blockbuster version that the times require. His 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, remember, attracted numberless teenagers to Shakespeare’s text for the first time. If his Gatsby leads a new generation of viewers back to the book, then so much the better.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home