The Great Gatsby (2013)

Rating: Director Baz Luhrmann has recreated the magic of his memorable Moulin Rouge (2001). See it on the big screen and enjoy.

The Great GatsbyTo begin with, no actor dies on the silver screen with the style and grace of Leonardo DiCaprio. He memorably succumbed in the cold Atlantic while preserving the life of his beloved Kate Winslet in Titanic (1997). In Blood Diamond (2006), he passed away slowly on an African mountain cliff as he talked over the phone to the grieving Jennifer Connolly. And Quentin Tarentino should have ended last year’s Django Unchained when DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz left the stage in a hail of gunfire.

With The Great Gatsby, DiCaprio honors F. Scott Fitgerald’s classic literary creation with a performance that tugs at the human soul. Sure, he throws some outrageously splendid parties, but the fundamental reason hiding behind the curtain is far more simple.

DiCaprio allows Gatsby to shine as an extraordinarily wealthy man with a broken heart. He seeks nothing more than to somehow win back Daisy Buchanan, the one thing that he treasures more than life itself.

The problem centers on the fact that Ms. Buchanan lives with her wealthy, philandering husband in a mansion across the lake from Gatsby’s lavish estate. She reluctantly married five years earlier when Gatsby disappeared for reasons that will be revealed, and neither has been able to rest easy as a result.

While Joel Edgerton gives an engrossing performance as Tom Buchanan, a man who values his inherited wealth more than his commitment to his wife, Carey Mulligan shines as the lovely and tormented Daisy. Though she has grown to profoundly resent her husband, she clearly loved him at one time. Though her heart belongs to Gatsby, how does she leave the man who is the father of her small daughter?

What defines The Great Gatsby as an adult film is the performance of Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. He narrates the story as he sits years later in a sanitarium trying to overcome the alcohol abuse that consumed him when he lived in a small cottage next to the Gatsby home during the Roaring 20’s.

Carraway became Gatsby’s only true friend, and he grew to love him as much as he appreciated his romantic quest. While his life was filled with mystery, Carraway saw Gatsby as the only man he had ever met dedicated to both hope and a feeling that you could recreate the past.

Baz Luhrmann has brought us an adult film that recreates the garish splendor of the Jazz Age that in some ways reflects 21st century America. The stock market was booming, opulence was at its height and the working poor were largely ignored except when a pretty wife was available for a one-night stand.

The many critics who have rejected this film are dead wrong when they complain that it does a disservice to Mr. Fitzgerald. As a reminder, let me point out that Maguire’s Carraway was the only person to attend Gatsby’s funeral. When Fitzgerald died at the age of 44, so few people were in attendance that pallbearers had to be hired. Sometimes dying young is not the tragedy it seems.