It’s about halfway through (more or less) Baz Luhrmann’s latest incarnation of “The Great Gatsby” that our narrator, Nick (Tobey Maguire), remarks on Gatsby’s, “extraordinary gift for hope.”
Apart from being a line that many of us probably vaguely recall being highlighted by our high school literature teacher (and occurs much earlier in the book), it is also, to be concise, what makes this film soar.
It is hope, extraordinary in nature, that carries this film. Not only that of Gatsby (Leonard DiCaprio), but of the entire production.
While the likes of Daisy (Carey Mulligan), her philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), and his colorful mistress Myrtle (Isla Fisher) are every bit as careless as Nick describes them, it is hope that draws them together. It is carelessness that destroys them.
Of course, Gatsby, the most careful and most hopeful of them all, is the one that must pay the ultimate price. (I’d say spoiler alert, but you really should have read the book first).
It’s a beautiful, simple story told beautifully, but not simply. The visual complexity of this film is at times overwhelming, but in the absolute best way possible, and in 3D (at its best).
And I haven’t even mentioned the parties—this is where what could have easily been just another translation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale becomes a visual marvel and a summer blockbuster all at once.
Mr. Luhrmann is known for his visual splendor and use of music and “Gatsby” delivers on both. The contrast of drunken raging celebrations and quiet intimate moments is startling and stunning. The score is a mix of modern and jazz-age and brings new life to a story most of us vaguely remember.
Lest we forget that this is in fact a piece of literature, at points Mr. Fitzgerald’s words literally come to life on the screen, a visual that could have easily come across as campy, but instead serves as a reminder of the history of this work. Of course, these floating lines of text would not be possible without a plot change that had some up in arms over mistreating a classic.
But Baz Luhrmann is nothing if not careful with this production, and the extreme care and research that went into this film can be seen throughout, but especially in the expanded story of Nick. Nick is not just the narrator, he’s the voice of Fitzgerald himself (or one might [should] interpret it as such). He is seen chronicling his memories years afterwards. It may be a bit of a stray from the text, but it works and grounds the story.
It also gives Mr. Tobey Maguire more to work with and he does some marvelous things. And that is of course true of the rest of the cast. We love the sweetness of Carey Mulligan’s Daisy as Gatsby sees her and despise her just as much when seen through the hindsight of Nick.
Then there’s Gatsby, a role that Leonardo DiCaprio absolutely nails. It may not be the most poetic way to put it, but it is the most accurate. This man is insanely good at picking scripts and this one might just get him an Oscar…and rightfully so. His Gatsby is subtle, mysterious, suave, sweet, insecure, yet confident, everything he should be, and above all hopeful.