Many will bemoan Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal tome The Great Gatsby for its deliriously brazen approach on one of America’s greatest pieces of modern literature, synchronising Jazz Age aesthetics with the latter-day soundtrack cues of Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter, Beyoncé, Lana del Rey, The xx, Jack White and a few more bizarre musical choices. It’s looks ridiculous on paper the assemblage of these names, but it works wondrously well onscreen – with Jay-Z’s “$100 Bill” signifying the Wall Street decadence of the period, Beyoncé’s cover of ‘Back to Black’ pre-empting Jay Gatsby’s downfall and a standout montage of Gatsby showing his objet de l’amour Daisy Buchanan his palatial residence, the one house he’d built in the hope that one day she’d walk right into, to the tune of del Rey’s swooning ‘Young and Beautiful’. It’s a moment of utter pitch-perfection that would quell any doubts in Luhrmann and Craig Armstrong’s musical scoring. And The Great Gatsby is like a musical, a tragic yet beautifully mounted one, except people don’t break out and sing.
It’s suitably anachronistic, and whilst complaints about this new-fangled update are inevitable, especially from Luhrmann’s detractors, this Gatsby justifiably passes as a product of highfalutin, post-modernist cinema. After all, this is from the man who revivified Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet for a new generation of audience and re-shuffled the musical genre with the sparkling Moulin Rouge! Having gone through four screen adaptations, big and small, it’s plain obvious that no entity on this planet Earth could ever touch Fitzgerald’s diamond-cut prose (see Robert Redford and Mia Farrow’s lifeless 1974 version, and the effect is equivalent to a dose of Rohypnol). There is no point paraphrasing Fitzgerald on the silverscreen and Luhrmann ostensibly understands this. He has taken the liberty in heightening Fitzgerald’s vision under Luhrmann’s wildly romantic, highly-stylised lenses. Yes, there is excess, there is high drama, high kitsch – but Fitzgerald’s caustic, bitter and cynical voice beneath the superficiality of Gatsby’s sumptuously decadent and hyper-tinselled parties is present throughout. As soon as the film is over with the razzle-dazzle of the grand West Egg shindig, Luhrmann peels away the glamour, decadence and façade (both in narrative and aesthetics) to reveal the hollow lives, the upper-crust condescension of the super-rich elite and Gatsby’s tragic pursuit of a romantic possibility, ending on a sombre note that held the Claude Debussy cinema in the Palais des Festivals in rapt silence until the credits stop rolling.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann | CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton | SCREENPLAY: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce | PRODUCER: Warner Bros. Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 140 mins | GENRE: Drama/Adaptation | COUNTRY: USA