"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy-they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness."
If there was ever a film that could benefit from director Baz Luhrmann's excesses in art direction and visuals then The Great Gatsby is that film. They weren't called the "Roaring 20's" for nothing and boy does Baz really go all the way with the visual spectacle during the first 40 minutes of the film. Many people think Baz's films are a bit pretentious, but I disagree because he is just an ambitious director who knows how important art direction can be in a film. I was one of the few who enjoyed Baz's epic film, Australia, but he is better known for his Academy Award nominated film Moulin Rouge. In The Great Gatsby he takes F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel and adapts the familiar story to his highly artistic vision. Fans of the novel might not enjoy the liberties that Baz takes in his adaptation, but since I had never read the story before I had a fun time watching this visually splendid film. The novel has been adapted many times on film before, but this is the first time I got to know about The Great Gatsby and perhaps I was more enamored by the tragic love story because I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't enjoy the 40 minute build up as much as I did getting to see the narration play out once Gatsby appears on film. The performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan were way above the rest of the cast. I wasn't a big fan of Tobey Maguire here, but he wasn't bad either. The best thing about The Great Gatsby, beside the fabulous characters and narrative that Fitzgerald created, is the artistic direction and costume design that transports us to the Roaring 20's. Some critics believe that the spectacle replaces the heart of the story here, but I actually thought there was a lot of heart to it.
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) narrates the events that took place during the summer of 1922 shortly after he had moved to New York City from the Midwest. It was a time of wealth so he decided to abandon his dreams of becoming a writer in order to work in Wall Street and chase the American dream. He moves into a small house right across the lake from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who is married to one of the richest men in the south, Tom Buchanon (Joel Edgerton). The talk of the city however has to do with the presence of Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a new millionaire who throws gigantic parties for everyone. No one happens to know much about him, but Nick's house is right next door to his mansion. Nick befriends Gatsby and thinks very highly of him for the class of person he is; very different from anyone he's met. Gatsby asks Nick to invite his cousin Daisy for tea and soon Nick discovers something interesting about Gatsby's past and his relationship with Daisy.
I know that novels are usually way better than films so I really want to read Fitzgerald's classic novel now because I was captivated by the story here. It is tragic, but has a lot of heart and I felt that Baz did get to show that in his film despite all the visual spectacles. Leonardo DiCaprio is always really captivating on film and here once again he proves his unique talents as the Great Gatsby. DiCaprio played Romeo in Baz's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet several years ago, but he has really matured now as an actor. Baz incorporated modern music to the 20's era and that may come as a shock to some viewers (seeing everyone dance swing to modern hip hop) but I thought the effect worked well in this movie. Baz really captured the spirit of the era and I think he is a bit underrated as a director. I don't know if I would've enjoyed this film as much if I had read the novel before, but as someone coming into this film without any prior knowledge of Gatsby I was blown away by the story and the characters.