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Movie Review: The Great Gatsby
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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The Great Gatsby PosterThe Great Gatsby
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 143 Minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2013

Directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby follows aspiring stockbroker and would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the Spring of 1922 to chase the American Dream.

Carraway ends up on Long Island, next door to a mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, old-money husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

Drawn into the mesmerizing world of the super-rich, Carraway finds himself engulfed by the passions and pleasures of the Jazz Age and the fantasies, romances, and deceits of those around him.

Based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s 1925 novel, Luhrmann’s film adaptation is co-written by Craig Pearce, who penned the scripts for Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! Influenced by Italian Grand Opera and Bollywood films, Luhrmann’s body of work is defined by lush, vibrant images bursting at the seams with life and bombastic soundtracks, often comprised of contemporary music.

In The Great Gatsby, the Roaring Twenties are represented not by jazz or ragtime, but tracks by Jay-Z, Lana Del Ray, Florence + The Machine, and The XX. A Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost speeds across the George Washington Bridge. Inside, Harlem Sweeties sip Moët champagne and dance in their seats to Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” – Gatsby’s lavish, gin-soaked parties pulsate to the beats of “No Church in the Wild” while flappers do the Charleston ’til they black out.

Like Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby effortlessly blends old-fashioned storytelling with voguish sights and sounds. This interpretation of Fitzgerald’s novel is a candy-coated mirage, shimmering in the sweltering heat of a New York City summer. Everything is exquisite and extravagant and wildly over-the-top – a cinematic representation of the decadence enjoyed by old-money and new-money alike.

The film feels like a Broadway stage play that could explode into musical sing-song at any moment – a technicolor rhapsody that borders on pure romantic fantasy. Luckily, the cast assembled for The Great Gatsby is as bold and dynamic as the images Luhrmann creates, allowing for Fitzgerald’s story to rise above the film’s abundance of style.

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers as the mysterious, obsessive Jay Gatsby. When Carraway attends his first party at Gatsby’s mansion, he hears all sorts of rumors. One female guest tells Carraway, “Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.” “He was a German spy during World War I,” another patron says. The fascinating enigma of Gatsby’s wealth is at the center of every conversation, and yet DiCaprio’s character is a myth of a man – unseen by the hordes of guests at his bacchanalian balls.

Maguire’s performance, on the other hand, is helped by the benefit of reciting large chunks of Fitzgerald’s sacred text. I mean, not even Tobey “Gee-Golly-Gosh!” Maguire could screw this up:

“He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

Carey Mulligan stars as the gorgeous, delicate Daisy, who feels less like a female lead and more like a MacGuffin – a desired object that everyone wants for themselves. Daisy spends most of the film silent and staring out windows, but on rare occasion Mulligan is allowed to explode with passion and anger, and in those moments Daisy comes to life. Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke are solid in supporting roles, and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki shines as golfer Jordan Baker.

At times, the source material feels like a burden to Luhrmann, who seems content to explore the period and garb his big-name movie stars in elegant dress and situate them throughout choreographed chaos set to anachronistic music. Still, Fitzgerald’s themes of lost love, self-reinvention, and what we’ve come to define as the American Dream shine through.

Luhrmann’s film is a dazzling big-budget drama with sumptuous imagery and a fine performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. Sexy, romantic, and spilling over with style, The Great Gatsby is a spot of good fun for those so cinematically inclined.

Trailer:

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