A dazzling spectacle, "The Great Gatsby" stands out for many reasons. This lavish adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece on the darker side of the American Dream is a grand cultural kaleidoscope.
The panoramic views of a burgeoning Manhattan in 1922 are breathtaking, as are the opulent estates of the wealthy elite. Swirl in high society glamour and swanky costumes, and you have an eye-popping visual feast.
Best of all, this faithful remake upholds the prose's beauty. Entire passages are quoted in a reverent book-to-film adaptation.
With his trademark verve, distinctive director Baz Luhrmann ("Australia," "Romeo + Juliet") has emphasized the roar in The Roaring Twenties. In his ultra-stylistic vision, he captures the decadence of the era, but this is not a Jazz Age re-do of the frenetic mish-mash "Moulin Rouge."
The bombastic first half showcases the excessive wild parties at Gatsby's Long Island mansion, with hyper-kinetic hedonism, heightening the mystique surrounding the host. After a stunning entrance, punctuated by Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," Leonardo DiCaprio mesmerizes as the mysterious ringmaster.
Then the film zeroes in on the doomed love triangle, revealing the obsession behind Gatsby's motives and methods, and the performers take the reins.
Leonardo DiCaprio, now 38, wears the role of the charismatic Gatsby like a second skin. He owns this movie. Since his teens, DiCaprio has always made interesting choices, preferring substance over matinee idol roles, and this just might be a career-high in an epic list ("The Aviator," "The Departed," "Titanic").
With effortless charm, he depicts Gatsby's social graces and ease with his prominent stature. But DiCaprio also digs deeper, showing the desperation of a "have-not" crossing over into the "haves," and never wanting the facade discovered. The intense yearning for his one true love makes the consequences all the more tragic.
His good friend Tobey Maguire ("Brothers") inhabits the narrator role of Nick Carroway with a fine blend of awe, curiosity and disdain as he observes the idle rich.
Carey Mulligan ("An Education") delicately portrays the radiant, fickle Daisy Buchanan while Joel Edgerton ("Warrior") is imposing as her husband Tom, the morally bankrupt son of old money.
Luhrmann's carefully crafted choices are mostly brilliant, and he co-wrote it with Craig Pearce. Their tinkering enhances the paradise-lost plot. By mixing contemporary with the sharply defined era, they've given it a fascinating, fresh update. With its lush look and striking, sweeping views of a booming post-war New York City, this vibrant modern "The Great Gatsby" is irresistible. Both new generations and avid book fans can embrace it. Besides, it's perfectly cast.
Most people must read the book in high school, but it resonates strongly as adult reading, after a few real-life brushes with betrayal, disappointments and worldly adventures.
What doesn't work
3-D isn't necessary, but there are some cool shadow-box effects. The secondary plot with Myrtle Wilson and her mechanic husband (Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke) isn't as strong. Purists won't like the extreme flourishes overall. But it's 39 years since the flawed Robert Redford-Mia Farrow pairing, and such an uncommon re-imagining is exhilarating on efforts alone.
4 stars out of 4
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Rated: PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language