Saturday, May 11, 2013


In its exuberant excess -- a signature style of Baz Luhrmann that he brings to a culmination here of pure flash, glitz and glam -- the director, perhaps unconsciously, evokes the same distant observation of that very excess F. Scott Fitzgerald described in his novel. It's not so much a classic adaptation than it is, mirroring the world Gatsby inhabits, a perfectly over-the-top display of crass indulgence. The fact that Lurhmann's audacious film is so grossly decked out in bells and whistles is more fitting than unnecessary in capturing the spirit of Fitzgerald's masterpiece: the over-the-top parties, the roaring 20s sensibilities and, most of all, the aching despair at the center of it all.

"The Great Gatsby" is also probably the only movie this year that will use 3D to proper effect. Luhrmann and cinematographer Simon Duggan put artistry in their use of the technology to soar above Manhattan, over the city and back into the illustrious mansions, twirling in and out of Gatsby's extraordinary parties. It creates an entirely sensory space, a highly stylized vision and nearly picturesque world where every scene is a perfectly choreographed dance. We open on a black-and-white Gatsby logo that pulses into golden life and zooms in on the infamous green light, the light upon which Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) gazes from his palace on East Egg across the bay into West Egg wherein lives the desired Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).

Next door to Gatsby is the curious and wide-eyed Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who moves to town to become a writer but ends up in the bonds business. He goes across the bay to visit his cousin Daisy and meets her husband Tom, (Joel Edgerton) who almost openly is having an affair with another woman, Myrtle (Isla Fisher), while the couple's friend, Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki), watches everything through a lens of close scrutiny and awareness. She also has information on the illusive Gatsby about which rumors swirl and has peaked Nick's immediate interest. Nick soon receives a personal invite from Gatsby to one of his big bashes to which everyone else in town just shows up. And it's not just any bash; it's the biggest bash in town.

The first Gatsby party awashes the audience in shimmering decorations, flowing champagne, and dancing and music galore. It's the pinnacle of booming decadence, Lurhmann gleefully throwing money into his grand production as if he himself is the Gatsby of filmmaking. The party scenes are dizzying and reminiscent of the zaniness of "Moulin Rouge!" highlighted, of course, by the film's largely promoted soundtrack that lives up to the hype. Flappers bust out to the beats of Jay-Z while the late-party hangover -- deflated decorations and discarded bottles covering the floors -- is set to a somber, crooning Florence Welch.

The introduction of Gatsby is the idealistic movie star moment. Panning up, we see a man smiling knowingly, sly and so confident, holding up a glass of champagne, fireworks over his head. It's bombastic, so very Baz and so fitting for introducing such a character -- and only Leonardo DiCaprio could've pulled off the role. It's hard to picture anyone else bringing potent vulnerability to such a famed literary character. He also looks as if he stepped out of a time machine from his days of "Titanic."

The core of the film is the ill-fated romance between Jay Gatsby, the powerhouse, and Daisy Buchanan, the delicate flower. Set to the anthem of Lana Del Rey's "Young & Beautiful," the high point of the film's robust soundtrack and score, we watch this superficial, material-driven world come crumbling down within the dark side of the American dream, the beautiful and tragic world that it is. And in the daring director's ability to capture that exact essence, that pointed feeling of wasteful extravagance, he succeeds immensely.

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