Set in the 1920s, the story follows aspiring writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) after he moves to New York and becomes intrigued by his neighbour Jay Gatsby's (Leonardo DiCaprio) lavish lifestyle and mysterious past. As Nick finds himself caught up in the world of the excessively wealthy, he witnesses romantic entanglement and betrayal. Gatsby's true nature is slowly exposed and his involvement with old flame Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) ultimately leads to tragedy.
There is a line in the 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" which mentions "kaleidoscopic carnival", maybe it features in F. Scott Fitzgerald's original story as well. But to me those two words sum up so majestically what the first half of Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is like as it sets out to bring to life the excessive decadence of the time with parties which the word lavish seems not close to being powerful enough to describe. It is a stunning production, intentionally false looking in places when it comes to how the actors look on screen but a stunning showpiece of movie making using everything from song and dance to CGI to create this fantasy "kaleidoscopic carnival".
Now of course there is a story to "The Great Gatsby" one of romance, treachery, adultery, deception and death but for me the visual show stopping nature of the first half relegates the story to the point at times it almost feels like an after thought with Luhrmann clearly focused on the showpiece nature of creating the "kaleidoscopic carnival". But then it is as if a switch is flicked as there comes to a point where suddenly the focus shifts and no longer do we have the excess and "kaleidoscopic carnival" but we have F. Scott Fitzgerald's story coming to the fore as we have Nick observer in the duplicitous and adulterous nature of his friends. On the subject of Nick we have an extra framing device added to the movie as we encounter him in an institution where he is being encouraged by a doctor to write his story.
Of course you can not mention Luhrmann's version of "The Great Gatsby" and not mention Leonardo DiCaprio who quite simply gives us a take on Robert Redford's charm from the 1970's version of "The Great Gatsby" but then also brings a touch of Jordan Belfort from "The Wolf of Wall Street" to the character which was released in the same year as this version of "The Great Gatsby". It makes his take on Gatsby a man who can turn on the charm, who can act like a suave millionaire who loves excess yet you get a sense beneath that smile is a man treading water at a frantic pace. I should say everyone else plays their parts well but this movie is very much the Leonardo DiCaprio show.
What this all boils down to is that as a production Baz Luhrmann's version of "The Great Gatsby" is out times out of this world and is a real showpiece movie. But for me at times the focus on the show stopping nature takes away from the story, especially the build up.