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Great Gatsby, The (3D) (AF)


Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Thompson, Amitabh Bachchan, Barry Otto

Director: Baz Luhrmann

The majority of film reviewers belong to one of three basic groups – those who have read the book(s), those who claim to have read the book(s) and those, like me, who prefer to review the film as a film rather than turn into literary critics while reviewing a movie. (After suffering the unforgiveable damage done to Catch 22 by Mike Nichols, I prefer to review the film in its context as a movie).

Here director Baz Luhrmann and his co-writer Craig Pearce appear to rely rather more on gaudy set pieces, soaring special effects and a swooping 3D camera than on F Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel. Which is fine if you want to see a movie that works more as a light show than as a holding drama. And, like Elliott Nugent with his 1949 version starring Alan Ladd and Jack Clayton’s mostly miscast 1974 version starring Robert Redford, Lurhmann’s narrative is rather less than convincing.

Fortunately he has been rather luckier than his predecessors in his choice of key actors. Leonardo DiCaprio makes more of the eponymous ‘hero’ than the screenplay might suggest, making memorable his character of the mysterious party-giving millionaire Gatsby who remains fixated on the woman he lost – attractively played by Carey Mulligan – who is now married to a brutal philanderer, vividly portrayed by Australian actor Joel Edgerton. And, witnessing Luhrmann’s increasingly melodramatic exposition of events is would-be writer Tobey Maguire (bringing more to his role than might be expected from the screenplay) who leaves the Midwest and comes to New York in 1922, ending up as DiCaprio’s neighbour on Long Island.

This Great Gatsby, like all too many Hollywood stars, relies more on its looks than on its emotional and dramatic depths. Luhrmann’s prime success is in the look and sound of his film: he is particularly well served by cinematographer Simon Duggan’s gaudy 3D cinematography and an eclectic musical score.

And Luhrmann uses impressive – if not one hundred per cent convincing - movie magic to create a fascinating celluloid universe which ultimately bears little resemblance to real life (the film was shot in his native Australia and not on any American locations). Costumes are colourful and evocative, the set pieces – notably scenes of partying excess – are well done and as a piece of essentially unbelievable but beautiful-to-look-at melodrama, the film succeeds.

Key performances, too, help imbue the film with considerably more style than dramatic credibility – and considerably more impact than it probably deserves.

Alan Frank

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Warner. Colour by deluxe.
143 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 0.

Review date: 18 May 2013