Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘The Great Gatsby’ Review: Luhrmann Breathes New Life Into Classic Tale

If you are a fan of director Baz Luhrmann’s previous films Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, I don’t see how you will be disappointed or underwhelmed by his take of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, “The Great Gatsby.”

Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby is spectacular, whimsical and daring. What’s more, Hollywood’s most versatile actor Leonardo DiCaprio delivers one of the best performances of the year as the charming and mysterious Jay Gatsby. We aren’t even halfway through 2013, but it’s pretty certain that The Great Gatsby will be one of the best films of the year.

The 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow (in the worst performance of her career) was considered a major letdown and it’s needless to say that this Gatsby has been a much-anticipated film for quite some time. Luhrmann’s Gatsby was set for a Christmas 2012 release, but was pushed to a Summer 2013 release, which makes much more sense considering the story takes place during a very hot New York summer. Warner Brothers pushed the release date back because they didn’t want their film competiting against their other 3D film, The Hobbit. Even though the film was shot in 3D, it doesn’t add much and with the vibrant colors it makes sense to see it in 2D, which is the way I would like to see the film again.


The film begins in a very Moulin Rouge fashion, as we are introduced to our writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). Carraway left the Midwest and moved to New York City in the spring of 1922, where the stocks are climbing, the Jazz Age is blossoming and everyone party-hardys. Nick moves into a modest cottage on Long Island next door to the mysterious rich party-host Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Across the bay live Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her brute of a husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Between visiting his cousin’s mansion, hanging with Tom in the city and attending parties at Gatsby’s, Carraway discovers their secrets, dreams and illusions that eventually lead down a path of unthinkable tragedy.

There’s much to be celebrated about The Great Gatsby: the performances, the major themes of the 1925 novel coming to life on-screen, the eclectic soundtrack, Catherine Martin’s spot-on costumes and production design and Luhrmann’s striking colorful visuals. But let’s start by oozing over our main man, Leo.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the most memorable performances of his established career (and my favorite of his in recent years) as the mysterious party host Gatsby. When we are introduced to the character of Gatsby in the film, it’s definitely one of the greatest reveals in recent memory. DiCaprio has the perfect smile, presence and hopeful glare that Gatsby should have. He is so perfect as the title character, I forgot about all his past characters when watching the film, he was just Gatsby. It’s clear that DiCaprio just “gets” Gatsby.


Tobey Maguire, who we last saw in one of the worst films of 2012: The Details, is spot-on as our young narrator Nick Carraway. Gatsby could be quite the comeback that Maguire has been looking for. It’s in the scenes where Maguire doesn’t even have many lines that you understand the brilliance of his performance. Carraway is our narrator, seeing every secret unfold and his reactions are just the way I pictured his when reading the novel. Bravo Mr. Maguire!

Carey Mulligan in wonderful and gives a connectivity to Daisy Buchanan that we have not seen before. She also does one of the best American accents in the business and her carefree flowing rich girl voice in Gatsby is unforgettable.

Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki came out of nowhere and completely dazzles in this film as Jordan Baker. Ms. Baker represents the carelessness of the rich and famous during that time and she’s darn good at it too. One of the major themes in the novel shines through directly in her performance as the snobby, careless and dishonest tennis player. Her cold portrayal won’t soon be forgotten and it would be wise for other directors to scoop this beautiful lady up.

Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin designed the costumes and production design for Gatsby. The flowing ‘20s dresses, headpieces as well as Gatsby’s colorful suits blend perfectly with the scenery. When Gatsby starts throwing his shirts around, in one of the most memorable scenes in the book, we couldn’t picture it any other way and it’s done beautifully here.

Only Luhrmann can put a modern soundtrack featuring Jay-Z, Beyonce, Fergie, Gotye and a beautiful ballad sung by Lana Del Rey (“Young and Beautiful”) over a 1920s story and make it work. I dare you not to be obsessed with the film’s love theme song after the film’s over. It’s absolutely perfect as Gatsby and Daisy’s theme and Luhrmann uses it consistently throughout the film.

The Great Gatsby is likely to be misunderstood as a silly spectacle, too modernized to truly depict Fitzgerald’s “great American novel.” While it may not be the typical take on the famous novel, you can’t deny that its major themes exude from the screen, Luhrmann’s visuals are breathtaking, Martin’s costumes incredible and DiCaprio is better than ever.

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