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:: The Great Gatsby

There was a time when Baz Luhrmann deserved the title of Australia’s best director. His first film ‘Strictly Ballroom’ was a bright beacon (yes maybe even a green light) in a dismal period of Australian cinema while his first journey into international film-making, his musical and glam-driven version of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ showed that he was a director that was willing to take a chance.

Then of course came ‘Moulin Rouge!’ a brilliant piece of film-making that is one of the finest films ever made (hell it even made Nicole Kidman watchable) but then it was like Luhrmann lost his mind partially with the extremely bad ‘Australia’, a film that is best described as an insult to a whole nation.

Now he has his hands on one of America’s greatest pieces of literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Sadly, though, while ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a lot better than ‘Australia’ it is still a way off Luhrmann’s best although it gives off a strong feeling that he was determined to produce the magic that he created with ‘Moulin Rouge’.

The film is told by the perspective of young wannabe writer Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), who after moving to New York finds himself suddenly in the world of the rich, thanks mainly to his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her all-American hero husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Nick soon learns that not all is rosy in this new-found world, and while the drunken parties may be fun they also soon result in him having to keep secrets from his cousin as he learns that Tom is having an affair with the fun-loving Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher).

Then Nick’s life is further complicated when he finally gets to meet his mysterious next door neighbor, the elusive Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), somebody it seems that everybody has a theory on but nobody really knows. Soon, Nick finds himself playing confidant to Gatsby who allows the young naive man close to him and in return Carraway does all he can to help Gatsby reunite with his lost love – the confused Daisy.

Luhrmann does all he can to make ‘The Great Gatsby’ look the millions the film cost. His shots of 1920's New York while CGI heavy do look appealing,but there needs to be more than good-looking visuals to make a film work, and sadly it’s there that ‘The Great Gatsby’ comes undone. The script is weak at best, the dialogue is cliched and at times seems to parody the period. Even the massive parties that Gatsby holds seem lackluster on the screen while Luhrmann’s biggest crime seems to be dangerously under use characters, namely Jordan Baker and Myrtle Wilson.

There are other glimpses of brilliance, the scene in which Buchanan finally confronts Gatsby delivers really suspense and drama but it is also this scene that makes the audience realize that even Carraway is massively under-used. He is simply a witness and very little else, meaning that even the script doesn’t help poor Tobey Maguire out, an actor who already seems to be struggling with a soft performance that highlights all the reasons why he isn’t one of Hollywood’s leading men.

At times, the script really does seem to lose its way. How Buchanan discovers the truth about Gatsby’s life is never given the screen time that it deserves, while George Wilson’s assumption that it is Gatsby with whom Myrtle is sleeping is completely unbelievable, especially when you consider that Wilson has spotted Buchanan coming and going from the apartment a number of times.

Aside from the visuals, the other reason to watch this film is the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio. Cinema lovers have come to realize that DiCaprio never puts in a weak performance and even here, where is he has been given an extremely average script to work with, he lifts himself up to such a position that he clearly shines brighter than everybody around him. While many doubted that he had it in him, his portrayal of Gatsby clearly outclasses the one by Robert Redford all those years ago.

The other standout is Joel Edgerton who embraces his role with both hands and overcomes a shaky start to pull off some genuinely dramatic scenes. This, grouped with his recent performance in ‘The Odd Life Of Timothy Green’ should show Hollywood that he is ready for the leading man role in films. While these two shine, however, it seems like Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan are simply left for dead.

‘The Great Gatsby’ is one of those films where the visuals originally win you over, but as you leave the cinema and mull over everything in your mind you soon realize that despite the glitter and glam, this is an average film at best.