Last night, old sport, I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Warner Bros’ The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann. Unlike most, I was not too familiar with the book, so I was in for a treat. I had seen the Robert Redford version long ago, but I was too young for the story to grab hold of me.
That all changed last night old sport.
What a marvelous, stupendous, sensational, emotional roller coaster. In true form, the cast seems larger than life, reminding you of those classic pictures from the roaring era the movie is set in.
No amount of fire could challenge the fairytale he had stored up in his heart.
The premiere was in Real3D, and Baz made the most of it. Instead of relying on cheap parlor tricks, he masterfully crafted the scenes to make the setting come alive through 3D.
A perfect example is the scene where Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire’s in his best performance since ‘The Cider House Rules’), enters the West Egg mansion of his cousin Daisy (played by the magnetic Carey Mulligan) for the first time.
In a patio type room with numerous double doors leading outside, wind whirling white drapes flutter through the frame as the doors are open and closed. Luhrmann uses this in 3D to emotionally pull you in to the awe and wonder Nick experiences as he enters ‘the old money side’ of town. These small visual wonders run rampant throughout the film.
I enjoyed every minute of this film. Even though it ran for 140 minutes, it never once seemed to drag. Just when you thought the film might go a little over the top a la Moulin Rouge style, it gets right back to the roots of the story. The balance between visual fx, enthralling performances, and creative storytelling is sensually mesmerizing.
Joel Edgerton nails Tom Buchanan’s persona perfectly as a spoiled, competitive child masquerading as a philandering drunk. Ilsa Fisher is ravishing in the role of Myrtle Wilson. However, it is certainly Leo who steals the show. His turn as one of the great screen characters of all time is all you would expect and more. Watching him wrestle with his emotions as the intensity escalates tugs on your heartstrings, and shows a true master owning his craft.
The set and costume design by Catherine Martin, who also produced it, was flamboyant, accurate, and down right amazing. The colors, styles, and materials all meld into the background to paint a mosaic of the prohibition era. It really set the mood and was visually striking. The ladies were ravishing, the gentleman dashing, and the era picturesque.
I was also impressed with the editing by Matt Villa, Jason Ballantine, and Jonathan Redmond. The film really moves, and uses its real estate wisely. Every shot adds to the story, even more so when they are repeated at times. I remember one scene where they cut to Tom putting out his cigar. The ashes sizzle, the flame burns out, and the scene is complete with an exclamation point.
Very much like a Wong Kar Wai film in the way they use repeated imagery & symbols to really drive home the timeless story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Finally, the soundtrack, as with any Luhrmann film, is simply incredible. It was a bit strange at first to see 20’s stock footage cut to a Jay-z song, but it kind of grew on me throughout the film. One of the most underrated treasures of the film is it’s sound production.
One great example is the apartment scene where an intoxicated Nick Carraway realizes Tom cheats on his cousin all the time. Across the street during this scene an African-american jazz player wails on his trumpet, elevating the emotional tension. It is sound design like this that adds a whole other dimension to the story.
One of the perks of being at the world premiere was hearing Baz Luhrmann speak before the showing. He addressed the crowd, and while hard to make out at times due to my elevated seat and his Aussie accent, one thing was crystal clear. He was infatuated with the story, and its writer. I thought it was sincere when he offered, he hoped we like ‘his telling’ of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.
At the end of the film, there was universal applause. While I’m willing to bet that happens at almost any world premiere, this was truly genuine appreciation for the 140 minutes of emotional engagement.
I highly recommend the film. Having not read the book previously, I can’t offer much in the way of differences. The friend I went with said they focused more on Nick Carraway as a writer in the film, then in the book. However, I thought that was one of the best elements to the story.
Certainly worth checking out old sport.