Note: With all the hype around this movie. We thought it was worth posting two reviews. See the other review here.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless novel “The Great Gatsby” is a wonderful piece of literature that dabs into many themes and events despite boasting a rather simple premise. Its commentary on the American Dream, its noted palette of colors, and array of ambiguous characters make it one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in high school. However, it’s an understandably challenging read, seeing as the visual representation of the color and descriptions of the parties are left confined to the viewer’s imagination, making something very important to the book abstract and personal.

It comes as a small surprise that he who mans the camera in the film is director Baz Luhrmann, a longtime Hollywood-man known for showcasing incredible visuals and limitless set designs. Luhrmann’s grandiose vision is perfect for a story of this magnitude. He provides us with the best film rendition of “The Great Gatsby” I have yet to see, and one that perfectly compliments the style, tone, and thematic tendencies of the novel.

The story is difficult to summarize to those who never read the novel. I question if those unaware of the book or its plot before the release of the film expressed interest solely by the trailers. The story concerns a group of wealthy socialites in 1920’s New York, with the central focus on Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a young, ambitious writer-turned-bond broker. In the middle of studying business, he is instantly taken by the way the areas of East Egg and West Egg interact and hangout and becomes immersed in the desirable lifestyle, reconnecting with his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

He soon becomes aware of a man named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), an elusive figure largely concealed by his enormous parties that disguise his presence and true character. Many rumors exist about who he is and what he does, but the character is vacuous to everybody but Nick, who strikes up an early friendship with the man. Nick learns the justification for Gatsby’s larger-than-life parties and mystifying ora is an overall attempt to get closer to Daisy. After being shipped off to war, he lost all contact and desperately craves her love and tenderness once more.

Like most great works of literature, “The Great Gatsby” can be seen as an embodiment of several themes and ideas. Most commonly associated are its symbolic representation of the American Dream, along with a romantic love channeling obsession and the idea that money can’t buy or produce happiness. Writers Luhrmann and Craig Pearce beautifully articulate this in an accessible, yet versatile way. The film should not be viewed as a party movie, although the parties are extreme and excessive. Nick describes them as a “kaleidoscopic carnival” and that is, by far, the best summation of the lavishness and vivacious qualities of a Gatsby party.

The performances here are divine. Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio are wonderful fits for their respective characters, each emphasizing their own particular qualities. Carey Mulligan of Steve McQueen’s “Shame” is, at times, mesmerizing here, Elizabeth Dibecki does some fine work here, in terms of creating a character out of small parts, and Joel Edgerton is terrific as the incorrigible brute that is Tom. The talent combined with the pulsating energy of Luhrmann’s production and effects creates an indescribable allure.

This is the second film by Luhrmann I have seen, with the first being his dismal “Romeo + Juliet,” a film modernizing the iconic play by effectively creating a film for kids who don’t like reading. With “Gatsby,” he has left a lot more in tact with the original novel and doesn’t make too big of an attempt to rewrite its devices with things from the new-age. If one can overlook the anachronistic music by Jay-Z and Florence + The Machine, which can blend awkwardly with the aesthetics of the Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties, this is still a faithful adaptation of the beloved book. It also helps if you overlook the use of phrase “old sport” at the end of nearly every sentence Gatsby says.

It’s always intriguing to see a film based on a book many kids have read in school be adapted into a mainstream film. Detractors of it now become anxious to see it, and those who loathed it just because they were required to read and test on it in school flock to see it. For “The Great Gatsby,” I think it helps that Luhrmann’s distinctly flashy style and bombastic image took the foreground for the marketing of the picture. Thankfully, this isn’t a hollow and superfluous adaptation with little below the surface. It’s a visual spectacle and a delightful picture completely fit for the cinema.

Grade: A-

Reviewed by Steve Pulaski
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