The Great Gatsby

On paper, The Great Gatsby and Baz Luhrmann make an unusual pairing. Mixing the great American novel with a director known for flamboyant pageantry and over-the-top campness sounds like a recipe for disaster. And yet, after successfully bringing the works of Shakespeare to the big screen in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann has proven himself capable of adding a contemporary twist to a much loved classic. Here he reunites with Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role in an attempt to recapture the magic of their last collaboration.

A modern day update is precisely what he brings to this adaptation, not with a temporal shift, but in terms of attitude. Here the high-earning professionals of Wall Street treat their success like a never-ending spring break, with the revelers looking more likely to dance to Gangnam Style than the Charleston. The raucous celebrations are just what you would expect from the man who made Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge, all excess and hedonism to rival ancient Rome. The decision to feature modern singers on the soundtrack is bold, and one that could easily have backfired. Yet with Jay-Z overseeing the music there seems to be a suitable middle ground, with songs of haunting rhythm that manage to sound fresh while creating a sense of deja vu.

There are misfires amongst the impeccably shot party scenes. When outside of Gatsby’s castle Luhrmann is prone to bamboozle the viewer with a roving camera that continuously glides across the body of water that separates the millionaire from his lost love; an impressive trick that suffers from diminishing returns. Exterior shots of New York are afflicted by a similar motion sickness as the camera is seemingly mounted on a roller-coaster through the streets and skylines of the city, presumably in an attempt to justify the 3D, which proves bothersome and intrusive when not capturing the lavish soirees.

When Lurhmann gets it right, his Great Gatsby is a joy to behold. Taking the words of Fitzgerald and exaggerating them to the extreme, yet still keeping the heart of the story. His approach will no doubt infuriate Gatsby purists but he has succeeded in updating the story for a modern audience without selling out the message of the book. It is a lavish and grand adaptation that takes its visuals to the very brink of decency while exposing the emptiness of the upper classes that is left once the party is over.

Michael Clancy