"Every allied country gave me a medal...even Montenegro."
I could live in a Baz Luhrman world. Everything is effervescent and luxurious. The people are beautiful, the scenery is handsome; even car crashes seem romantic. Luhrman's forté is spectacle, and he does his craft service with the latest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic, THE GREAT GATSBY. The director is the perfect mouthpiece for the story. It oozes excess, dripping in high fashion, and even higher drama.
We are thrown quickly into the roaring twenties, an optimistic time in American history. Sandwiched between the first World War, and the unforeseen Great Depression, this America is brisk and boisterous. Luhrman's vision moves nearly as fast. His shots dart from one place to the next, never allowing the audience to catch its breath. The film is narrated throughout by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a recent Yale graduate and WWI veteran. He supplants himself in West Egg, a fictional area of Long Island in a small cabin, and begins work as a bonds salesman. He reconnects with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) across the bay in East Egg. In his introduction to us, Tom cradles a football and charges after Nick immediately after entering their home, as a way of rekindling his fraternity ways with his recently found brother. Daisy herself stretches angelically across a chesterfield. The white drapes in the room flow as if on cue to her presence. Carraway's omnipresent voice describes Daisy fondly, but throughout the film, his drab recounts never really mesh with the overpowering visual flair. They are like a brown tweed suit at a black tie affair.
Carraway is somehow neighbors with one Jay Gatsby, whose monstrous mansion dwarfs his own minuscule abode. Gatsby is an enigma. His life is rumored through whispering gossip. He is a German spy; the third cousin of the Kaiser; a killer; a socialite; a war hero; a racketeer. Carraway is invited to one of Gatsby's seemingly nightly celebrations and the two become fast friends. Gatsby's motives are ulterior: he knew Daisy is a previous life and will do anything to reconnect. They were once lovers, and in love, but at the time, Gatsby's shame of being poor sent him fleeing from her side. Now that circumstances are different, he sees in Nick a way of infiltrating himself back into Daisy's life.
Even with Gatsby's insurmountable wealth, he can't afford to buy a clue. Daisy is a vapid woman. Perhaps she too was forever remodeled by the injection of affluence. Her feelings toward her spouse and her former paramour shift as easily as selecting her daily wardrobe. Luhrman himself seems to be attracted to damned romances. With this, ROMEO + JULIET, and MOULIN ROUGE in his CV, someone needs to give Luhrman a hug.
When Leonardo DiCaprio first starred in 1996's ROMEO + JULIET, he was nowhere near the entity he is now. Although previously nominated for an Academy Award (WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?, in 1993) there's an awareness now that's discernible in all of his performances. Aided by some reputation similarities, he's fully in command of his craft playing the titular character. DiCaprio encapsulates him perfectly. He has the look and the bravado to pull Gatsby off, but his massive presence regrettably serves to overshadow his complements whenever they share the screen.
Carraway's time with Long Island's upper echelon has led him to become an alcoholic due to knowing a man for only a matter of weeks. What power, to be able to affect others in such limited amounts of time. Carraway informs us that Gatsby was the most hopeful man he'd ever met. I'd tend to disagree with that assessment. Here is a man that receives calls, not from people but cities; dinners and luncheons are routinely interrupted to speak with Chicago, or Philadelphia. He is so rich that he carries a cane and doesn't even need it; he is so confident that he wears pink three-piece suits. Strip away his lavish clothes, and extravagant soirées, and powerful allies and what's left is a ruined man. There's a blinking green light that stands just off the Buchanan's property. Gatsby spends many nights out on his dock looking at that beacon, alone in his thoughts, and his solitude. This light serves not as an advancement, but a forcefield.