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Saturday, 18 May 2013 00:00

The Great Gatsby (15)

Directed by Baz Luhrmannn
by Rita Di Santo

Baz Luhrmann gives a skim-reading of a classic novel

The Cannes Film Festival has picked the most entertaining possible opener with this new cinema adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Narrated in flashback, The Great Gatsby is the story of an ambiguous hero who aspires to the American Dream by freeing himself from his poor origins.

It follows writer Nick Carraway as he leaves the Midwest for New York in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, jazz, bootleg kings and sky-rocketing stocks.

In pursuit of his dream Carraway (Tobey Maguire) lands up next door to Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious, party-giving millionaire.

Just across the bay his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lives with her philandering, aristocratic husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and Carraway is drawn into the captivating world of the super-rich, their illusions, loves and dishonesties.

As a portrait of the jazz age, it's a film which ought to provide plenty of food for thought. Gatsby, the millionaire who throws his money around, typifies the rich and how they play with each other. Their friendships are paper-thin, riven by suspicion and jealousy.

Luhrmann's adaptation is very much a personal version of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel and he succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of a glittering time, perfectly underscoring the song-and-dance scenes with a bold, roller-coaster soundtrack of jazz mixed with contemporary music.

An intricate visual style includes stunning panoramas of New York as a background to Gatsby's lifestyle in his sports car, at parties or drinking champagne by the pool.

But Luhrmann ignores the corrupt financial machinations which which make the rich even richer.

Gatsby is a spendthrift and fuels his over-the-top lifestyle by buying whatever he likes, simply because he can. Yet Luhrmann fails to capture this undertone that gives Fitzgerald's novel a contemporary resonance some nine decades after it first appeared.

The arrogance of a ruthless social class, so well represented in one of the book's lines: "No matter - tomorrow, we will run faster," is absent.

Yet despite its pretensions and shallowness, this is an entertaining film with a terrific star cast led by DiCaprio.

With his eternally boyish looks and the charisma of a megalomanicac, he's a perfect Gatsby. Mulligan is spot-on in capturing the shallowness of Daisy Buchanan and Maguire is terrific as Nick Carraway.

But many attending the Cannes screening were left wandering why the film, already released in the US, was opening the greatest European festival of international cinema.

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