Seventeen years ago Baz Luhrmann achieved major success with his updated version of Romeo + Juliet, a film in which he combined the old language of Shakespeare with a modern setting. The film was also responsible for thrusting a young Leonardo DiCaprio into the limelight. Now, in 2013, Luhrmann and DiCaprio reunite for a new take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, once more combining Fitzgerald’s classic literature with current hip-hop music by the likes of Jay-Z and Beyonce.

While Gatsby (DiCaprio) himself remains an unknown presence throughout the first act of the film it is down to Tobey Maguire, as Nick Carraway, to draw the audience into the story and hook their attention. Nick is introduced at the beginning of the film but at the end of his story; he is depressed alcoholic staying in a sanitarium to rid himself of his alcohol addiction and recounting the tale of one man who changed his life, Jay Gatsby.

After a slow start, primarily used to introduce the main characters of the story, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who also happens to be Nick’s cousin. Once the introductions are over, however, Luhrmann takes his audience on a rip riding roller coaster full of sex and alcohol. Everything in the first act is pumped up to the max and overstated in a way that only Lurhmann could get away with. The parties are on a huge landscape, such large sets crowded with the entire population of New York City. Hearing all of the party goers talk about the mystery surrounding Gatsby just makes the character more compelling, a wonderful thing for a character not yet seen on screen.

The stories of being a German prince and mercenary are quickly put to rest when Gatsby is finally revealed. And DiCaprio keeps draws you in, forcing you to feel interested and even sympathetic at times for a man you know nothing about. His interest and sudden friendship with Nick Carraway stinks of suspicion and all of his private phone calls provoke you to ask more and more questions. Soon enough, Gatsby’s ulterior motive is revealed and the movie begins to take more twists and turns that an Argentine Tango.

Layers and layers are ripped away from Gatsby’s tragic character, wonderfully portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in a role that has to be seen. He begins at the level of very good and only continues to rise; the third act is a stand out piece of acting alone.

It may seem strange to lace a film set in the 1920s with modern hip-hop from some of music’s biggest stars but the contrast does not distract from the viewing experience at all. Lurhmann does not set out to accurately present a vision of the 1920s, this is a story for all time. A huge theme of The Great Gatsby is the idea of the boom that comes before a fall and in times of such austerity with the global financial crisis it seems the lesson is just as important now as it was back then.

This isn’t a Leonardo DiCaprio film nor is it a Tobey Maguire film, despite this being the best performance I have ever seen him put in. Gatsby, at it’s very core, is all about Baz Lurhmann, the technicalities of his directorship, the grand set designs, the striking colour pallet, everything screams Lurhmann. He brings Jay Gatsby to life in a way that only he could and he doesn’t disappoint.

My Rating: 8/10.

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