Saturday, May 18, 2013


Release date:
May 17, 2013
Baz Luhrmann


Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carrey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan
It’s a small but significant role... That should answer the question on the minds of all Indian film-goers about Amitabh Bachchan’s turn in The Great Gatsby. Now that that’s out of the way… The Great Gatsby is Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s book, widely considered to be among the greatest American novels ever. This is the story of the decadent rich of the time and their emptily lavish lifestyles; of superficiality and hypocrisy; of a woman who’d rather run away with her lover than make an open declaration of this love before her husband; of a man hopelessly in love, who needs to know that his woman did not feel an iota of emotion for another man in the years they were apart; of a husband who bursts into rage at the realisation that his wife is having an affair, unfettered by the fact that he’s widely known to be sleeping around himself. 

The triumph of Luhrmann’s film – and indeed Fitzgerald’s book – is that it could be transported to the present times with nothing lost in translation. The setting could be a Page 3 party in Delhi in 2013, with guests bitching about their host while sipping glasses of wine; where men still demand a standard of morality from wives that they do not adhere to themselves; where women will go to any lengths to maintain a veneer of ‘respectability’.

Our narrator is Nick Caraway, a World War I veteran who has been advised by his psychiatrist to write out his story as a cathartic exercise. Nick’s typewriter takes us to New York City where he returns after the war, settling into a small house next to the extravagant mansion of a certain Mr Gatsby. No one seems to have ever seen this mysterious billionaire yet his impossibly spectacular parties are attended by everyone. At one of those dos to which he finds himself invited, Nick is sought out by Jay Gatsby. He discovers then that the huge home, the attention-seeking parties, had all been set up by Gatsby to win back the love of his life – Nick’s now-married cousin Daisy Buchanan who was parted from Gatsby many years earlier. 

At one point in the story, Nick tells Gatsby that he’s worth a 100 of those money-laden guests at his parties… It’s a poignant moment, because Gatsby has just been taunted for his roots in poverty and for the source of his present income. Poignance, though, is not the dominating force in this film that is touching in places, but in the overall analysis is sadly pulled down by Luhrmann’s obsession with flawless visuals. No doubt Gatsby’s galas – complete with fireworks, acrobats and live singers – required a helmsman with a grand vision (and who better than the director of Moulin Rouge for that). But that vision somehow translates into a sense of detachment from the goings-on as the second half comes around. Even the 3D seems like a pointless indulgence. Towards the start, Nick sees himself as a figure both inside and outside his story. As a viewer, the persistent feeling is of being outside; of not being entirely drawn into the proceedings on screen, somewhat like in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali production where there is so much perfection in the visual settings that the film is robbed of sentiment.

The costumes in The Great Gatsby are to-die-for. The music builds up the frenetic pace of the dizzying celebrations in Gatsby’s home. The parties have been excellently re-created by the film’s production design team with a deliberately undisguised use of CG enhancing the sense of artificiality and sterile beauty. Now if only they had been restrained elsewhere, giving the characters more natural-looking spaces to unleash themselves with full force upon us.

Of the cast, Tobey Maguire as Nick is a disappointment, walking through the entire film with pretty much the same facial expression, except when a touch of incredulity flits across his face at the wild party he attends with Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan and his mistress. Carey Mulligan as Daisy aptly conveys the character of a woman so flippety that she is not indifferent as much as she simply forgets the people she supposedly loves. What she does not do though is convince us that she has the charisma to have kept Gatsby in her thrall for so long. This failing is underlined by the striking presence of actress Elizabeth Debicki playing Jordan Baker, a golf player who belongs to the Buchanans’ social circle and has more to her character than Daisy’s puddle-deep feelings. Bachchan is effective as Gatsby’s business associate. It’s a cameo that required a star with a towering personality, and Luhrmann has chosen well here.

The pick of the cast though is Leonardo DiCaprio who is wonderful as the protagonist living a lonely, hollow life despite being surrounded by material goods and people. He is confident yet not pompous as he strides past his guests, not entirely displeased with the knowledge that he’s important enough to be gossiped about; he’s tender and vulnerable as he watches Daisy dance through his home with joy at seeing what he has made of himself; he explodes like a prize fighter in that scene when he is being reviled for his background; and when he meets Daisy for the first time since his return, he is a shy, awkward kid. This is what we needed more of to put the Great in The Gatsby. Alas, there’s just not enough.

Rating (out of five): **3/4
CBFC Rating (India):
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language)
Release date in the US:
May 10, 2013
Running time:
146 minutes

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