Baz Luhrmann’s much-hyped adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is everything you’d expect: brash, glitzy and bursting with the director’s trademark razzle-dazzle. If Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic is the Great American Novel, then this frantically jazzed-up 3D film is the pop-up-book version.
That said, Luhrmann’s script (co-written with frequent collaborator Craig Pearce) is surprisingly faithful to Fitzgerald’s plot, if you discount the film’s bizarre framing device in which narrator Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire, struggles to get the story down on paper while drying out in a sanatorium, diagnosed as morbidly alcoholic.
Maguire’s Nick relates how he found himself living next door to mysterious, party-throwing millionaire Jay Gatsby amid the gaudy splendours of Long Island and became drawn into Gatsby’s obsessive quest to regain his lost love Daisy, who happens to be Nick’s cousin and lives across the bay with her boorish, blue-blooded husband Tom Buchanan.
The novel’s key scenes are all here, and so are many of its most memorable images – from the hellish valley of ashes on the road to New York, overseen by the eyes of Doctor T J Eckleburg on a oculist’s billboard, to Gatsby standing on his jetty gazing out at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.
What’s missing is the tone. Fitzgerald’s prose is pitch-perfect, both glittering and poised. By comparison, Luhrmann’s film is tone-deaf. For all the fizz he gives the story’s celebrated scenes of revelry, you get the feeling the champagne will taste flat.
Some viewers will undoubtedly get a kick from the sight of flappers cavorting to the swaggering, wilfully anachronistic hip-hop of Jay-Z and Kanye West, but the performances get lost amid the hysteria, which is doubly disappointing given how well the film has been cast.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the best screen Gatsby yet, playing the role previously inhabited by the likes of Alan Ladd and Robert Redford with a convincing blend of romantic yearning and steely resolve. Carey Mulligan conveys Daisy’s vulnerability and shallowness, and Joel Edgerton nails Buchanan’s brutal snobbery.
In cinemas from Thursday 16th May.
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