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The month of May saw the release of one more movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby. But does this latest re-packaging of Scott Fitzgerald’s classic pass muster? Patty Papageorgiou-Axford finds out.

The Great Gatsby Review

The story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a young Midwesterner who has come to New York to seek his fortune. Earning a meagre living, he rents a cottage in the shadow of a colossal mansion owned by the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose regular extravagant parties draw in the indulgent population of New York city en masse. Amongst the other “nouveau riche” of the area is also Carraway’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a flightly young wife living in similar splendour across the lake from Gatsby’s house. Fascinated at first by the lifestyle of his wealthy neighbours, Carraway accepts an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties where the two men meet and soon become friends. Before long however, he finds himself a sheep amongst wolves as his involvement with Gatsby entangles him in a wanton world where love, money and obsession spiral rapidly into madness.

Baz Luhrmann is without question a visionary film maker with a gift for bringing style and passion to the screen in a unique, unprecedented way. From the man who gave us Shakespeare re-invented in Romeo and Juliet, musical mash-ups with Moulin Rouge and an epic love story in Australia, Gatsby also delivers a visual feast to match expectations. The opulence of 1920’s America springs to life in vibrant sets and stunning costumes all blended together in Luhrman-esque fast cuts and sweeping close ups. Gatsby’s parties burst into action between toe-tapping jazz numbers and musical anachronisms seamlessly blended into the soundtrack.

The film remains faithful to the book, with little changed or taken out. Tobey Maguire’s Carraway does seem a tad more gormless than he might be in the original story, but the performances are very well delivered. Not a small feat considering the characters are in all truth rather shallow, even unlikeable when you come to think of it. This is, after all, a classic tale about greed on various levels, greed for money, greed for success, even for love.  The central figures of the story are a group of self-obsessed rich people doing little more than listlessly luxuriating in their wealth.  Criminals, adulterers, bigots, whose vague redeeming characteristics are skilfully dug up by the cast and brought to light. Everyone loves Gatsby for his wealth – we empathise with him for his very human trait of simply, falling in love. Daisy may well be a frivolous selfish woman, but we feel for her heart torn between what she has and what might have been. Even her bigoted husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) shows a glimpse of humanity in the (admittedly chauvinistic but true of the times) way he deals with his wife’s infidelity and confirms his love for her. Difficult characters ably portrayed by a talented cast indeed.

You would be forgiven if you felt this film is mostly for the ladies – an abundance of stylish costumes, sculpted bobs and glittering sets create a spectacular Art Deco extravaganza – but don’t let that discourage you. Gatsby is a story that has held its own through time, as numerous film and TV adaptations prove, and this latest version is well worth a viewing. And anyway, there are plenty of classic cars thrown in for the guys out there too.

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