It’s the ultimate romance. A poor young officer named Gatsby falls in love with a beautiful rich girl. Though she loves him too, she gives up waiting and marries a rich suitor.
Money is everything, or so Gatsby thinks when he rediscovers her. He determines to rewrite the last five years of separation by becoming rich himself and winning back the love he knows is his by right.
The romance is set against the hedonism of Long Island in the 1920s, and also brings into focus the contrasts between rich and poor Americans in the prohibition era. Baz Luhrmann’s literal depiction of scenery and events is good, but whilst the film is generally accurate on plot, it takes liberties with character and atmosphere.
A serious flaw is the characterisation of narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Macguire). Instead of appearing as an intelligent bystander, he is more a clownish puppy and wears an irritating and permanently bewildered expression as he gawps at Gatsby’s parties and the events that unfold thereafter.
Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brilliantly cast as the romantic lead and is the main attraction in this blockbusting version. Elsewhere there is lots to look at, with alluring scenery of the mansions and gardens, but usually not enough time to look at it. Continual zooming in and out to create a frenetic atmosphere is perhaps a forgivable attempt to engage the younger audience in what is essentially a slow-moving plot, but using a rap soundtrack by Jay-Z doesn’t do much for the period atmosphere.
Neither does Carey Mulliagan cut the mustard as the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. Her voice, far from resembling the sound of money, is as flat as a pancake and she lacks the stage presence to make up for her average looks.
None of this should stop you from going to see the movie, since it’s well-seasoned with Fitzgerald’s pithy prose, but purists should not expect too much. At 144 minutes it’s long on action and short on nuances.