First of all, I just want to offer a warning that it’s going to be very difficult for me to write this review without totally fangirling out over Leonardo DiCaprio. You see, I’ve absolutely adored him since the days of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and I am absolutely confident that he is the best actor of my generation. I should probably also mention that I think Baz Luhrmann is an incredibly inventive and talented director with an eye for visual flare and artistic use of music. With that being said, it should come as no surprise that I loved The Great Gatsby.
For those who are unfamiliar (and really, at this point you should have read it), the film is about excess, class, commercialism and foolish hope. Seen through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) we enter the wild world of New York in the roaring ‘20s. Nick has come to make money on Wall Street like many other ambitious young men. He lives in the nouveau riche West Egg, a region politely sneered at by the old-money types across the water in East Egg, where his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lives with her waspy husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton). Nick’s mysterious neighbor is a man known for his lavish parties, attended by just about everyone in the city. When the lower-class Nick gets a personal invitation to one such affair, he meets the man himself, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).
DiCaprio gets and introduction rivaling his iconic Radiohead-accompanied intro in William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, complete with fireworks and one of the sexiest shots of someone holding up a glass of champagne ever captured on film.
Gatsby has invited Nick in the hopes of getting close to Daisy, something Nick reluctantly agrees to help with after learning that Daisy and Gatsby had a relationship before she married Tom. It’s not like Tom is a saint either. He’s been carrying on an affair with Myrtle (Isla Fisher) who lives in the polluted, rundown Valley of Ashes between the city and the wealthier suburbs with her husband. Nick watches as Gatsby courts Daisy, Tom courts (and parties with) Myrtle and everything begins to unravel.
Gatsby’s undying love for Daisy is both admirable and foolish. He’s devoted to the idea of Daisy more so than Daisy herself, who is in fact quite weak and superficial. She is his dream, and that dream is so close that he can almost touch it—much like the ever-present green light at the end of Daisy’s dock that he endlessly stares at like the illusive specter of a past that has slipped away. The pieces are moving and everything is set on a collision course that sees the ever-hopeful Gatsby believing his own delusions and meeting with a tragic end.
Having read the book in high school, watched the Robert Redford movie from the 1970s and practically lived and breathed Romeo + Juliet for the majority of my middle school years, I was expecting a lavish, opulent, visually captivating world of vintage, stylish costumes and sets. And Gatsby delivered with flying colors, particularly in the party scenes. Luhrmann has a knack for almost surreal and exaggerated imagery and he does not disappoint here. The added bonus of 3D brings even more depth to the world and perfectly captures the wild spirit of Gatsby’s infamous parties.
But let’s get serious here, the star of this show is DiCaprio. Very few actors can consistently capture the mixture of subtlety and intensity that he just naturally radiates. As Gatsby he is charming, mysterious, warm, sympathetic, suave, flustered, delusional and honest at the same time. Simply put, he is fantastic! And that’s not just the fangirl in me talking, it’s the film critic too. I would see this film a dozen times just to watch him own this character again and again.
Because of its highly stylized nature, this film is sure to draw some dissenters, but for those who enjoy Lurhmann’s previous work, DiCaprio’s intensity, feast-for-the-eyes style 3D and the music of Jay-Z (who was also an executive producer) Gatsby is a must-see.
Bonus pictures below because there’s just too much gorgeous Leo for one post!