Jazzy, fizzy and often quite fun, Baz Luhrmann’s “Pretty Good Gatsby” takes F. Scott Fizgerald’s Great American Novel out for a sometimes dazzling, always irreverent spin.
The gauzy picture-postcard 3-D production design and superb leading players breathe life into the Jazz Age novel. But the “Moulin Rouge!” director’s barely contained determination to Australianize, if not outright bastardize, “The Great Gatsby” is constantly at war with a book and a cast that scream “classic.” And Luhrmann isn’t having that.
Gatbsy’s orgiastic parties are set to hip hop music. A clumsy sanitarium-set framing device gives Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) a tad too much Fitzgerald autobiography and too little Nick, the shrewd but passive observer. And some of the supporting player choices take you right out of the movie. Seriously, what Luhrmann and “colorblind casting” do to the “gambler” and gangster Meyer Wolfsheim is so far removed from Jewish caricature or stereotype as to be laughable.
But Maguire is close to perfect as Nick, the struggling bond salesman, would-be writer and teller of the tale of his neighbor, the mysterious, “richer than God” Jay Gatsby, and of inbred aristocracy that Nick’s cousin, Daisy, was born into and married into. Carey Mulligan makes for a cannier Daisy than the hapless ditz Mia Farrow turned her into back when Robert Redford played Gatsby in 1974. Joel Edgerton (“Animal Kingdom”) makes the brawny, bigoted Tom Buchanan an understandable, if not remotely sympathetic, guardian of his polo-playing “ruling class.”
And Leonardo DiCaprio brings depth, neediness and focus to Jay Gatsby, who has copied the manners, affectations and dress of America’s not-noble nobility, all in pursuit of his feminine ideal — Daisy.
Photographed right, there’s a Wellesian larger-than-life aura about DiCaprio, and Luhrmann introduces him as the character in a grand moment that includes confetti, fireworks and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” — a tune composed two years after this film is set (1922), but close enough to be perfect.