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The Great Gatsby Movie Review

The Great Gatsby: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack cover art
The Great Gatsby is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

The Great Gatsby (2013) movie poster The Great Gatsby

Theatrical Release: May 10, 2013 / Running Time: 142 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Baz Luhrmann / Writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel); Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (screenplay)

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby), Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway), Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan), Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan), Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker), Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson), Jason Clarke (George Wilson), Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim), Adelaide Clemens (Catherine), Callan McAuliffe (Teen Jay Gatsby)

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The last time Leonardo DiCaprio and director Baz Luhrmann teamed up to adapt one of the English language's most celebrated stories was in 1996's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. DiCaprio was not yet the global icon that Titanic would make him.
Luhrmann's reputation as a respected artist had yet to be cemented by Moulin Rouge! The film shared multiplexes with the likes of Space Jam, Jingle All the Way, and the Bill Murray cross-country elephant comedy Larger Than Life.

Seventeen years later and a few months after originally planned, DiCaprio and Luhrmann's reunion is ready to be seen, as their take on The Great Gatsby is now in theaters. Much has changed in all that time. DiCaprio, now 38, has bucked the traditional heartthrob career arc and remained as relevant as any movie star by smartly limiting himself to work with revered filmmakers, most frequently Martin Scorsese. Luhrmann, 50, has been scarce, with Australia being his only feature film of the past ten years. And yet, the director's tastes and sensibilities have remained constant, rendering his Gatsby quite what you'd expect from the director of Moulin Rouge! That may be music to the ears of fans who have seen more musicals since but nothing quite like that lavish 2001 production. On the other hand, disappointment may be in store for those wishing to see some growth and evolution from the distinctive Luhrmann or simply a more faithful adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's most exalted novel.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby."

Luhrmann and his regular co-writer Craig Pearce invent a frame story that sees protagonist Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a Wall Street bond salesman, channeling his writing ambitions and exorcising the demons of his recent dramatic experiences in the summer of 1922 per an institution psychiatrist's advice. The design is unnecessary and highly reminiscent of Ewan McGregor's protagonist in Luhrmann and Pearce's last warmly-received collaboration. The film gladly picks up when it inevitably comes to Fitzgerald's actual story.

Nick is renting a small cottage among the noveau riche inhabitants of Long Island's West Egg, right next to the extraordinary mansion of the mysterious multi-millionaire Jay Gatsby. Gatsby's residence houses the most decadent parties imaginable every weekend, which hordes of wealthy and important people attend religiously. Few of them have met or even seen Gatsby, prompting them to speculate on the more salacious rumors about him being a war hero, a spy, or a murderer. Nick is the recipient of a rare invitation to one of Gatsby's spectacles and eventually gets face time with the enigmatic, larger than life, younger than expected host (DiCaprio).

Gatsby is cordial to Nick, frequently addressing him and others as "old sport." Mystery continues to swirl around Gatsby regarding his wealth and the business that has him whisked away to answer phone calls from other major American metropolises. But Gatsby does illuminate the motives behind his neighborly gestures, explaining his unique, historical interest in Nick's cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a polo-playing big shot who provides for her with his old money at an East Egg mansion, right across the bay from Gatsby, while dabbling in philandery with Myrtle (Isla Fisher), a garage owner's wife.

With some reservation, Nick agrees to arrange a surprise reunion between Daisy and Gatsby, creating a complicated love triangle destined for tragedy.

Show me the money, Tobey Maguire! Look up here, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

With Luhrmann at the helm and a $127 million production budget reportedly exceeded, you can be sure that The Great Gatsby looks amazing. The director applies his signature flair to 1920s New York.
The director's comfort and skill in blending computer-generated imagery with real sets is evident and the results are usually appealing and occasionally breathtaking. The glamour of the period and the opulence of Gatsby give Luhrmann license to indulge in his theatrical sensibilities and in 3D, a format you expect he would have embraced long ago had it been feasible. Doing justice to the party atmosphere of dancing ladies, flowing champagne, and fireworks clearly ranks highly on Luhrmann's priority list.

Because the director likes to put existing pop songs to new use, the soundtrack, executive-produced by Jay-Z, features an eclectic blend of remixes and covers, from Beyoncé and OutKast's André 3000 putting their spin on an Amy Winehouse song to a Beyoncé song performed by a Scottish R & B singer and orchestra to a U2 tune via Jack White. There are also original songs performed by Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine, which could gain Luhrmann admittance to an Oscar category that has previously eluded him on technicalities.

Such bold creative choices are likely to divide viewers, few of whom would deem them perfectly suited to Fitzgerald's tale. Nonetheless, that style and Luhrmann's curious fixations on a fire escape saxophonist and dancing girls' navels never derail that story, which has often been held up as one of the finest in American literature. So much of the story's appeal is in the set-up and atmosphere -- the establishment of Gatsby as this intriguing puzzle and Nick as his wide-eyed, unlikely friend -- that scenes of significance and characters of substance are few in number. That serves to heighten the impact of pivotal well-executed moments: an uncomfortable exchange in a sweltering Manhattan hotel, Nick's debaucherous outing with Tom. Save for the questionable frame story, the film gives no more or less than is needed to make this drama resonate. Though it runs over two hours, it never lags or gets off track. The glimpses of peripheral characters (lady golfer Jordan Baker, the 1919 World Series fixer Meyer Wolfsheim) add flavor and personality without us wishing we got more of them. Even the star-crossed romance of Gatsby and Daisy, on which so much of the film hangs, is fine being left largely to the imagination instead of being subjected to small talk and sentimentality.

The Great Gatsby might just be Luhrmann's best film to date and he makes a better case for adapting the novel than expected, but as many viewers will likely hate it as love it and are sure to let you know that in the countless online venues in which they can voice their opinion. Early critical assessments have been mixed, yet largely unfavorable.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is the fourth wheel to the love triangle involving Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

Originally intended to open on Christmas Day last year, the film was delayed to allow time to complete and fine-tune editing, visual effects, and music. Now opening on the Friday between Iron Man 3 and the new Star Trek movie, Gatsby feels kind out of place as unusually mature and substantial storytelling that nonetheless carries the high commercial expectations of such big-budgeted fare. It seems quite likely to underperform as others have done given the same second weekend in May (Dark Shadows, Robin Hood, Speed Racer). There's more than money at stake to the uncharacteristic timing. It remains to be seen whether the Academy Awards can defy their historically limited memory to include this in the technical categories (costume design, production design) for which it warrants obvious consideration.

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Related Reviews:
The Great Gatsby
Directed by Baz Luhrmann: Strictly Ballroom | Now in Theaters: Iron Man 3 | Adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Leonardo DiCaprio: Catch Me If You CanTitanicRevolutionary RoadJ. EdgarBody of LiesDjango Unchained | Tobey Maguire: The DetailsSpider-Man
Carey Mulligan: DriveAn Education | Joel Edgerton: Animal KingdomKinky BootsThe Odd Life of Timothy Green
Isla Fisher: Confessions of a Shopaholic | Jason Clarke: Zero Dark ThirtyLawless

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Reviewed May 10, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, A&E Television, Bazmark, Red Wagon Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.