“The Great Gatsby” is an American classic. But that hasn’t stopped Australian director Baz Luhrmann from bringing his trademark style to the tale, set to a provocatively modern soundtrack.
With Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, the movie depicts the wild glamour and energy of Roaring Twenties America, while also evoking a “hollow” feeling at the heart of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s era-defining 1925 novel.
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan also plays a small part in the movie, as a shadowy organized crime figure who helps the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby make his money.
Gatsby has fascinated generations of filmmakers, from the silent era the Oscar-winning 1974 adaptation by Jack Clayton, with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the main roles.
Luhrmann, director of “Strictly Ballroom” (1992), “Romeo and Juliet” (1996), “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) and 2008′s “Australia,” chose DiCaprio to play the sharply-dressed Gatsby in the latest version.
“I think everyone has some sort of connection to Gatsby,” the 38-year-old actor said ahead of the film’s release in the United States on Friday, a few days before it opens the 66th Cannes Film Festival in the south of France.
“He is a character that has created himself according to his own imagination and dreams and has lifted himself from his own bootstraps as a poor youth in the Midwest and created this image that is the great Gatsby.
“It’s a truly American Story in that regard,” said DiCaprio, who so-stars in the movie with Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton.
He was presenting the movie at New York’s Plaza Hotel, one of the film’s settings.
In his short novel, Fitzgerald used the character of the fabulously wealthy but mysterious Gatsby to portray America in the prosperous 1920s, before the shadow of the Great Depression began to loom.
“Here is this emerging democracy that is America in the 1920s and he wants to emulate the Rockefeller of that time period and of course creates his wealth in the underworld, but this is the new land that is America,” said DiCaprio.
Shot in Australia, Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is a sumptuous production that seems to follow Gatsby’s own rule for the parties he throws of constant excess.
As in some of his past movies, the Australian uses anachronistically modern music in period pieces, here getting Gatsby’s guests to dance to Jay-Z, Florence and The Machine, Fergie or Nero.
The filmmaker explained that he used these kind of songs to “liberate” actors on set, notably in one orgy scene.
“We were about 20 minutes away from wrapping and we still hadn’t gotten that kind of wild party feel,” he said. “So I got all these props and things. I said, ‘We have 20 minutes left: let’s turn all the cameras on and go for it.’
“And right in the middle of the jazz, I just turned up very, very loudly a track called ‘NIP’ (Niggas in Paris), which is a Jay-Z track which was mixed with jazz, and things took off.”
Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator and a neighbor and friend of Gatsby, is played by Maguire, who is also a close friend of DiCaprio since they met at an audition for a sitcom more than 20 years ago.
That relationship helped on the movie, said Maguire.
“Gatsby had an agenda for Nick, but ultimately unfolded into a real friendship and perhaps Gatsby’s only friendship,” he said.
“I think it was very meaningful to Nick and I definitely have an affection for Leo so it’s easy for me to have an affection for Gatsby as Nick as well.”
Reviews have been mixed, with industry journal Variety lamenting that “no degree of visual opulence can ultimately free this picture from its lumbering and unimaginative fidelity to the page,” of the original novel.
Online film website TheWrap was even more blunt.
Under the headline “How Many Flappers Make a Flop?” it wrote: “Baz Luhrmann sucks the life out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal novel and replaces it with empty filigree and overbearing style.”
The movie opens this weekend in the United States, and much of the rest of the world next week.