The Great Gatsby (2013)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby

Okay, so I'll get the confession out of the way: I've never read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I vaguely recall seeing the Robert Redford film version when I was about thirteen – far too young to appreciate it – and finding it all a bit dull and talky. So I was approaching Baz Luhrmann's reimagining of the classic novel without any cherished mental images, or indeed, of any idea as to what happens at the end. And besides, it's Leo DiCaprio in the Roaring Twenties: bring it on!

Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway, a recovering 'morbidly alcoholic' inmate in a mental asylum. His therapy involves recalling the lifestyle that sent him over the edge, which all began when he moved next door to infamous millionaire tycoon Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby's parties are legendary affairs, epic, costly Baroque gatherings at which the host is barely present. Yet he singles out the fresh-faced, impressionable Carraway for attention – because, it transpires, Carraway's cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a spoilt little rich girl married to Old Money on the other side of the bay, is the long lost love of Gatsby's life.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Bucchanan in The Great Gatsby

Now super-rich and successful, single-minded Jay sees no reason why he cannot swoop into her life and sweep her off her feet. But Daisy, while happy to bask in the glow of Gatsby's adoration, waltzing round his ganster's paradise of champagne-drenched extravagance in diamonds and furs, she is less disposed to disrupt her cushy existence by taking this delightful affair seriously and leaving her boorish husband for this mysterious, rootless stranger. The stage is set – but is it for a happy ending or a tragedy?

'Dull' and 'talky' are probably the last two adjectives I'd use to describe this lush, lavish, high octane, in-yer-face depiction of the lives of the rich and famous in post-War, pre-Depression America. It's not a musical, but it's styled like one: a garish, Technicolor vision of a glittering society dancing on the edge of disaster. The pounding gansta rap and frenetic excesses of Gatsby's parties recall not only the absinthe-fuelled, devil-may-care abandon of turn of the century Paris as depicted in Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and the wanton desperation of Cabaret's Weimar Berlin, but also hint heavily at the self-destructive recklessness of the stock market in the noughties. And as anyone who invested in the sub-prime mortgage boom can tell you, such fiscal hedonism can only end one way: with an almighty crash.

That said, The Great Gatsby is far more subtly nuanced film than Moulin Rouge, or indeed Luhrmann's first collaboration with DiCaprio, Romeo + Juliet. Those are both young people's stories, all frantic passion, now or never, live fast, die young and never stop talking at the top of your voice. The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, is a much more mature, thoughtful film, world-weary yet at its core imbued with a beautiful optimism that puts those dewy-eyed teens to shame. Gatsby's unshakeable belief in the indomitable power of love is rocked by Daisy's carelessness, her equivocal, selfish desire to have her cake and eat it, yet I'd like to think that Gatsby's belief, while misplaced, is not entirely misguided.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a beautifully wrought film, perfectly blending the hysterical, slightly sleazy glamour of pre-crash, nouveau riche New York with a terribly sad story of love that should conquer all, yet falls at the final hurdle. DiCaprio exudes a mix of cocky, arriviste insouciance and naïve, farmboy hopefulness, while Tobey Maguire invests his slightly thankless role as observer and narrator with real heart. And as you'd expect from Luhrmann, there are some wonderfully staged scenes, not least the moment in which we first encounter Gatsby face on, smiling like a radiant sun god, exuding charisma, bathed in the scintillating light of a thousand exploding fireworks.

Brassy and audacious, compelling and moving, The Great Gatsby dares you to like it or loathe it. I loved it – now all that remains is for me to read the book...

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