Is Luhrmann’s Gatsby Great?

If it’s one thing that’s clear from the start of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, it’s that the film is not afraid to take risks. But do they pay off?

The Great Gatsby follows the life of writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he struggles to unravel the truth behind his suspicious neighbour Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).

The plot, like the classic Fitzgerald novel it’s based on, is filled with mystery and incorporates themes of hope, deceit, wealth and corruption. The film handles the delivery of these themes with confidence. Luhrmann does a remarkable job at adhering to what made the novel a success, while refreshing the delivery of the plot to capture a modern audience. You truly get a sense that underneath the facade of wealth Gatsby has built for himself, he is hiding something.

The film is set in the 1920’s in New York and Luhrmann does an incredible job at bringing this to life on screen. The film looks stunning. From the bustling and chaotic hubbub of New York City to the extravagant and luxurious mansions of the main cast, everything is seemingly bursting with life. The costume design is also on point and every actor and extra on set looks like they were plucked right from the 20‘s.

A particular highlight was a party scene at Gatsby’s house which saw the culmination of 1920’s style with a colour palette that literally makes your eyes widen. This is definitely the strongest point of the film; however, it wasn’t without its issues.

The main cast gives a reasonable performance throughout the film, but there were some inconsistencies.

  • Maguire’s performance was definitely the standout and you really feel for his character in his many awkward ‘third-wheel’ moments as well as his intriguing bursts of narration that are sprinkled throughout the film.
  • DiCaprio’s performance as Gatsby was, for the most part well done, but his accent sometimes seemed unsure of whether it was American or British or somewhere uncomfortably in the middle. The constant use of Gatsby’s mannerism “old sport” seemed overused as well, merely for the sake of sticking to the novel. He said “old sport” literally four times in the space of 30 seconds and on screen this just felt overdone.
  • Carey Mulligan’s performance of a woman stuck between wealth, deceit and love was also done convincingly well.

But for the remainder of the cast there was just something missing in terms of character development. Some of the dialogue-heavy scenes are a bit tedious. Also If you haven’t read the novel beforehand it could be difficult to really feel for some of the other characters. But these were just a few minor flaws in an otherwise strong acting performance.

The soundtrack to the film was implemented quite well throughout. It feels as if Luhrmann could have taken the safe route and included an entirely classical soundtrack but the use of modern music really accentuates the originality of this adaptation. Music by artists including Jay-Z, Lana Del Ray and Florence Welsh surprisingly succeed at juxtaposing the 1920‘s imagery on screen with modern cinematography techniques.


+  Stunning set and costume design

+  Clever use of contemporary music

+  Major plot themes are well delivered

–   Inconsistency in acting performances

–   Character development felt rushed

RATING: 4 stars.

As Gatsby famously said, “You can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.”

Luhrmann just about brings truth to Gatsby’s quote as the film reaches ever so close to the acclaim the novel is known for. Ever so close to the green light at the other side of the bay.

Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby succeeds at making Gatsby great again for a modern audience and this makes it ultimately worthy of a cinema ticket.