F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is an era-defining, literary masterpiece convincingly capturing the decadence, debauchery and self-destruction of privileged elites living in the lap of luxury at the height of the Roaring Twenties. Set on Long Island over the course of a very eventful summer, the tragic tale of love and betrayal unfolds from the point-of-view of social-climber Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a nondescript bond salesman who fancies himself a celebrated writer someday.
At the point of departure, we find him renting a modest cottage sitting in the shadow of a sprawling waterfront mansion owned by Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a self-made man given to throwing extravagant parties for fellow members of high society. Despite having his pick of a glittery litter of gold-digging flappers, the mysterious millionaire remains obsessed with Daisy (Carey Mulligan), an attractive young woman he had dated as a soldier before leaving the country to fight in World War I.
While he was overseas, she met and married Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), an abusive adulterer from an old money family whose own mammoth estate is located on the other side of the bay. Nick comes to play a critical role in the proceedings once Gatsby learns that he just happens to be a distant cousin of Daisy's.
Soon, the lovelorn tycoon prevails upon his new, next-door neighbor to serve as a go-between by inviting her over for what she doesn't know is a secret rendezvous with an ex-boyfriend. Sparks fly afresh, and it's not long before all the morally-corrupted central characters end up taking a ride aboard an ill-fated, emotional roller coaster.
Perhaps more pertinent than recounting further the familiar plotline of a novel we all remember from high school is addressing its reimagining as a visually-captivating, ethereal fantasy by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge). The bodacious director not only shot the New York story in his native Australia, but infused the soundtrack with hip-hop tunes by the film's executive producer, Jay-Z, and wife, Beyonce'.
Before you join the rush to indict the anachronistic inclusion of rap as blasphemous in a movie supposedly recreating the Jazz Age, consider the fact that historical costume dramas generally tend to tell us more about the period in which they were made than about the one in which they transpire. Why else would anyone see fit to mount a fifth version of Gatsby?
Reflecting the influences of both its producer and director, this riveting reinterpretation for the Hip-Hop Generation is apt to be best appreciated by fans of mind-numbing gangsta' rap weaned on shallow videos featuring materialistic misogynists enjoying free-flowing champagne while surrounded by a bevy of gyrating beauties. Bravo to Baz for effectively lending his trademark lush and lurid touch to a cautionary classic chronicling the downside of the American Dream!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, smoking, violent images, partying and brief profanity
Running time: 143 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers