The story of the mysterious playboy Jay Gatsby (here played by the always reliable Leonardo DiCaprio) and his obsession with a Southern belle (played by UK starlet Carey Mulligan) is seen as a metaphor for America in these years after The First World War. The country seemed hell bent on throwing caution to the wind and just having a thoroughly good time. Such was the way throughout the 20's until the great Wall Street Crash of 1929, plunging the nation into the harsh realities of the Great Depression. In no uncertain terms, the party was definitely over. 'The Great Gatsby' follows a similar path with jazz, good times and bright lights at the beginning and the mood changing to more dramatic, sombre tones towards the end. Hollywood obviously is attracted to this material as it has been filmed on several occasions, the last being in 1974 with Robert Redford (as Gatsby) and Mia Farrow (as Daisy). Knowing Luhrmann's skill with marrying musical sounds with dazzling images, as displayed in the aforementioned 'Romeo' and 'Moulin' projects, I felt sure this upcoming adaptation would work like gangbusters. Unfortunately this was not completely the case.
'Gatsby' was originally scheduled to be released last Christmas, at the beginning of the awards season. The film makers may have had high hopes it would receive recognition with the Oscars, Golden Globes etc. folk. Suddenly Warner Brothers pulled 'Gatsby' from it's release slot and alarm bells started ringing. Why the sudden change of plan for this $150 million production? Luhrmann issued a statement explaining work was still ongoing on the technical 3D aspect of the film. Added to this scenario was word that major hip hop player, Jay Z had been approached to increase his contribution to the film's soundtrack. After delivering one song he was now going to executive produce the whole soundtrack album and help in the overall musical direction of the film. So far, so good. However, while watching 'Gatsby' (being a dj and a big time fan of both Jay Z and rap), I thought the hip hop elements just did not work. Everytime it came within earshot it took me right out of the fantasy of being in the 1920's. Also, some of the imagery used with the black characters, though coming from a good place, just worked against what I think Lurhmann was trying to achieve. I understand the relationship between jazz and hip hop, both starting from the streets and based in black American culture, but for whatever reason, the gelling of the two was not a success.
At 144 minutes long, I found the film to be way too long for my interest to be held throughout. The relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy was somewhat intriguing, however I found myself wandering as the story at times plodded on to it's conclusion. As talented as an actress as Carey Mulligan is (she beat out several A-list Hollywood women to nab the role), I could not muster up the belief that this girl could cause such extreme emotions from different men around her, though I did like her very believable American accent. Tobey Maguire, another talented actor, I felt was miscast as Carraway, I just did not believe him as this man captivated by Gatsby. DiCaprio as the millionaire playboy himself, did a decent job, but my overall feeling was the script (which was written by Luhrmann with Craig Pearce) needed more work. A little tightening up. I would say that 'The Great Gatsby' is nowhere as dreadful as some critics would have you believe, it is in fact a missed opportunity, a decnet film with some major flaws.