The Great Gatsby (3 stars)

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel finally arrives

A far cry from the drab pastel shades and muffled emotion of the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow film, Baz Luhrmann’s new version of The Great Gatsby aims to put the ‘great’ back into F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Many have tried and failed to dramatise the cerebral narrative of the book. Luhrmann instead plays up the razzle-dazzle parties at Gatsby’s mansion, laced with explosions of 3D fireworks, as deliberately anachronistic pop-culture tunes garland the soundtrack.

An ideal Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the social-climbing millionaire imperiously, intense yet insecure, while Tobey Maguire’s wan smile makes him a decent if somewhat wet Nick Carraway, who cheerfully falls into the millionaire’s exuberant social circle. Joel Edgerton makes a bullish rival in Tom Buchanan, but Carey Mulligan is a weak choice for his wife, Daisy the object of Gatsby’s affections. Mulligan simply doesn’t do enough to suggest exactly why Gatsby could be so obsessed by Daisy, leaving a gaping hole where the story’s heart should be.

Luhrmann’s gaudy approach is appropriate to the material; as proved by his best novella The Diamond as Big as The Ritz, Fitzgerald understood the distinct allure of grand scale and opulence. But the quieter scenes lack the requisite sensitivity, and reframing Nick’s narration from a sanatorium plays fast and loose with authorial awareness; Carraway is a character, not just the author’s surrogate.

Luhrmann’s best film, Romeo + Juliet, mixed modern music and pop culture iconography to create daring meanings in Shakespeare’s text; his more reverential take on The Great Gatsby, complete with line-by-line dialogue from the book, feels all dressed up with nowhere to go in comparison. Yet the trappings are stunning, with sumptuous evocations of 1920’s New York and the West and East Egg social scene that dazzle and beguile even as the narrative fizzles out.

General release from Fri 17 May.

The Great Gatsby Trailer

The Great Gatsby

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • US / Australia
  • 2h 23min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
  • Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
  • UK release: 16 May 2013

Luhrmann's typically exuberant take on the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald features DiCaprio as the titular millionaire.