Courtesy of Warner Bros
For all Luhrmann’s showiness though this is still at heart Fitzgerald’s story. 1922, young writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) attends a lavish party thrown by mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Luhrmann’s visually spectacular approach to filmmaking is evident in how he arranges the first meeting between Carraway and Gatsby. In the novel the two men happen to stand next to each other at a party and begin talking. Luhrmann’s encounter is a seismic moment, there are fireworks in the sky. Music soars. DiCaprio’s movie star smile lights up the screen. Like Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly Gatsby is a fake but a genuine fake. The parties are a ruse intended to attract the attention of the love of his life Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) who lives across the bay and is now married. As with ‘Moulin Rouge’ Luhrmann uses contemporary music which in a period piece should feel anachronistic but instead comments on either a particular scene or a character’s emotional state. Lana Del Ray’s joyously melancholic song ‘Young and Beautiful’ reappears throughout as a refrain as Gatsby and Daisy attempt to rekindle their love affair behind the back of her ruthless businessman husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).
Station regulars will remember F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda appearing in ‘Midnight in Paris’ as bright young things partying with the Lost Generation of writers and artists. Later they drank their fill, too many gin rickey’s and late nights did for them both but Fitzgerald seems to have known this would happen. In his novels the comedown from the parties and the damage done afterwards was always irreparable. Luhrmann maintains this undercurrent of loss. Gatsby is a difficult part and requires a movie star with enough presence to catch the attention at first glance and DiCaprio delivers. Not just in terms of beauty but in his easy charm and vulnerability. It is a great performance, anchoring this wild ride of a movie with the yearning of a man who wants the unattainable.