Baz Luhrmann's lurid, 3D take on F Scott Fitzgerald's novel works despite itself
Jay Gatsby's doomed love for Daisy Buchanan is in danger of getting subsumed in the glitter of 1920s New York, which unravels in a montage of Charleston and chatter, but the film, The Great Gatsby thankfully finds its soul just in time. The director of Moulin Rouge - in familiar territory as he painstakingly recreates the Jazz Age when mammon ruled the New York of lofty mansions and giddy parties - rescues his film to leave behind an aching loss of a love that was never to be.
It's a much loved, much discussed book. The enigmatic fabulously rich Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, quite wonderful) who hosts heady parties and the callow Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) with her wealthy, not quite genteel and definitely racist husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).
She lives in East Egg and he in West Egg across the bay hoping that she will one day waltz into one of his parties, fabled in all of New York. They were once in love but she gave up on him and got married instead. And he, now rich just for her, waits. And waits,
Watching from the sidelines is the silent Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), Daisy's cousin, through whose eyes the story unravels as he writes a book.
Till the interval, their story seems almost lost as the director, it seems, concentrates all his efforts in setting the backdrop. The filming is loud, often over the top. Snowflakes coming at you through 3D, pearl necklaces flying in wild abandon, words from Nick's book floating in the air. In contrast is the dark, edgy world between the city and the affluent suburbs, the valley of ashes.
And then, just when I'd about given up finding the connect that I had been looking for, this gilded, conflicted world comes alive. The scene at Nick's cottage when a nervous Gatsby waits to meet Daisy after five years is very effective. Thanks in great measure to DiCaprio, whose jumpiness well almost jumps out - and not because of the 3D.
The pivotal scene at the Plaza where the denouement of the troubled trio plays out is also well done. Gatsby pleads with increasing urgency to Daisy that she declare her love for him and tell Tom so; Daisy goes from certainty to confusion and Tom from appealing to her to confident. The shift is subtle and absolute.
I watched Robert Redford's rendition of Gatsby many moons ago. And loved him. DiCaprio as Gatsby comes very close. He is in command as always and manages to breathe life into his role just when you were giving up on him.
DiCaprio said recently that he looked at the film not as a love story but as a man "obsessed with a version of the past". And he manages to convey some of that complexity.
Mulligan's portrayal of the shallow Daisy who goes for security without a second glance could have had more shades in it and Maguire is competent as Carraway.
But the best for the last. Amitabh Bachchan is good, very good as Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby's business partner. Fitzgerald had envisaged him as a 'small, flat-nosed Jew'. Bachchan is neither small nor flat-nosed but leaves an impression.
Though Bachchan had said it's a blink and miss role, it is definitely more than that. He lives the role of rakish, wicked Wolfsheim. It's a commanding presence.
Anil Kapoor as the rich Indian businessman in Mission Impossible 4 was frankly embarrassing but Bachchan's portrayal of a Jewish businessman does open up possibilities for Indian actors looking for non-stereotypical roles.
The film sometimes unfolds with the rapidity of comic book images - cars zipping, women dancing et all. And the 3D is an annoying distraction in what should be an intense retelling of age-old relationships.
But stay with the film. And you won't regret it. Do watch.
3.5 out of 5
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