Thursday, May 9, 2013

Swanky Stunner

The Great Gatsby       Final Cut Score: 90%

When a studio delays a film's release from late December to early May, it doesn't portend good things. Typically, projects deemed worthy of an end-of-the-year release are synchronously deemed deserving of Oscar consideration.

So when Warner Bros. made the decision to push back the opening of The Great Gatsby those four-plus months, expectations were naturally lowered.

But while Baz Luhrmann's sumptuous slinkfest would have had no shot of walking off with best picture, we are by no means discussing your run-of-the-mill, early-May offering. The opulent Aussie – responsible for such gaudy garishness as Moulin Rouge! – has produced a visually-stunning, theatrically-showy spectacle that's as lavishly grandiose as one of Gatsby's grotesquely over-the-top shindigs.

Yes, Luhrmann has stamped his extravagantly splashy aesthetics upon the piece (including a cache of Jay Z tracks), though he wisely remains quite faithful to F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary tale of the 1920s wildly wealthy and the torrid lives they lead. Leonardo DiCaprio taking the titular role of Jay Gatsby, the mysterious, mansion-dwelling, parvenu millionaire who throws the most bombastically big bashes in the all the greater New York/Long Island area.

Living in the shadow of Gatsby's palatial estate in a rundown rental is Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a stockbroking self-observer whose cousin happens to be Gatsby's long-lost love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Married to an old-money lout, Nick Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), Daisy's forced to confront her past, reevaluating where her allegiances of the heart lie — as if you didn't read the Cliffs Notes book in high school.

From Gatsby's stately West Egg manor to roaring Manhattan circa 1922, Luhrmann shapes a vivid – postmodern – world equal parts organic and hyper-real — the look of the film is striking. Whereas 3D is often tacked-on solely for the higher ticket price (see: Iron Man 3), Luhrmann embraces the video View-Master technology and makes it an essential element of his creation, fusing it to the film, generating jaw-dropping depth-of-field.

The reward is an immersive event on par with Life of Pi and Prometheus — resplendent examples of how to maximize use the third dimension. Experiencing The Great Gatsby in 3D is mandatory.

Performances are universally stellar, with DiCaprio effortlessly sliding into Gatsby's tux, bringing the iconic character to life with more searing intensity than Robert Redford's 1974 personification — one of DiCaprio's finest outings. Mulligan's Daisy is as Fitzgerald conceived: coyly superficial, torn between her emotionally vacant, womanizing hubby and the self-made man who once possessed her now benumbed heart. Maguire's typically meek, which is ideally suited for the outlier Carraway. And Edgerton continues to ascend Hollywood's ladder of fame, following up his short-but-memorable appearance in Zero Dark Thirty with a strong turn as the brutish Mr. Buchanan.

While many will undoubtedly scoff at Luhrmann's cinematic treatment of "The Great American Novel", his art director re-envisioning is precisely what was needed for a 2013 revamp. It takes some serious cojones to mashup a bunch of flappers footing it to Fergie and pull it off.

Nice work Mr. Luhrmann — old sport.