Gatsby has come under a lot of critical scrutiny, most of it unjustified. Directed by Baz Luhrmann of Moulin Rouge fame, this film follows Leonardo DiCaprio as the legendary Jay Gatsby in his pursuit of rekindling a past romance with his old love, the gorgeous Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby, a self-made man masquerading as a member of Manhattan’s wealthy elite, turns to his next-door neighbor, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), for help in recapturing the romantic interest of Daisy. However, things aren’t as clean-cut as Gatsby would like, when Daisy’s husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), slowly catches on to the plot and leads all the characters of this dazzling film down the path to disaster.
The critical scrutiny I mention comes from Warner Bros. decision to push the release date from December of 2012, a crowded holiday month, to the first month of the busy summer season, May of 2013. Since the film has been in release for a few weeks prior to this writing, the gamble on the studio’s part paid off financially, as the film provided the explosion-heavy summer months with some high-quality drama, a nice denouement for the more discerning moviegoer. Yet, the delay wasn’t just for a chance at a better release date; it was also for a post-conversion of the film into 3-D.
I have not seen the film in 3-D. I have become burned out by the effect, much like most of the audience in my part of the globe. Yet, this film should not be judged on its stereoscopic effects. The world of 1920’s New York is dazzling, and everything is bright, flashy, and new. The decision to enlist Jay-Z to provide a re-tooling of R&B hits from modern day as jazz era music fit perfectly, and the songs even got a few intended laughs from me, most notably during a breathtaking car ride into the city with DiCaprio and Maguire, where another car is passed with the riders dancing in their seats to “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”. All the parties at Gatsby’s are beating with this life force of music, and it is very welcome. For the more emotional and touching character scenes, Luhrmann once again teams up with long-time collaborator Craig Armstrong. There isn’t a full score CD release yet, but I sincerely hope there is. “Daisy’s Theme” brought back a lost era of true romances on screen for me, and I found myself entranced by every scene that DiCaprio and Mulligan lived in.
DiCaprio is at the top of his game as Gatsby. I never doubted that he was this character for a moment. He seemed to live and breathe the man written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. DiCaprio has played his fair share of mentally disturbed individuals in the recent past, most notably in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, where he chases after dreams to find the answers he is seeking. In Gatsby, DiCaprio continues on with the dreams motif, creating a world out of his own imagination in the hopes of capturing the attention of Daisy. To no surprise on the audience’s part, it works, though only for a little while. Reality sets in, and the characters are left having to face the consequences of their actions. Mulligan is to be commended for bringing such dimension to Daisy. Every glance at DiCaprio is filled with emotion, and the chemistry between all four of the lead actors is electric.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who has not seen the film, or read the novel, but it left me sitting stunned in my seat until halfway through the credits. This film captured me and took me on a ride into a world not unlike the one we are living in today. People are rich, and they seem to be getting richer with each passing day. But, how long can this be sustained? In Gatsby’s case, he uses his riches in the pursuit of Daisy, yet he fails to realize that a relationship involves two people, both with free will. In order for his dreams to work, Daisy must also share a mutual affection for him. Though she admits that she loves him, tearfully so, it is clear to everyone but Gatsby that Daisy is not the same girl he fell in love with five years earlier. She is just a memory.
I highly recommend seeing this film in the cinema, the way it was designed to be experienced. The sights, the sounds, and the music blend together into an emotional journey - the likes of which I haven’t experienced for a few years at the movies. Gatsby is a film that teaches you that to desire someone is perfectly natural, yet, when that fascination is replaced with action, anything can happen, for good or ill.