Self-made men like Jay Gatsby have been a fascination of American culture for decades, men like Howard Hughes and Don Draper, men that create veiled versions of themselves available for public consumption. These men raise the ideal of the American dream for all to see. Too often that ideal is so golden that few inspect further to see the pyrite underneath.
During parties Gatsby has a story for every occasion, a drink to offer in both hands and an practiced "old sport" for each party goer. Of the two Gatsbys we see (one private and one public), the private moments captured by Luhrmann offer a stoic man, one with green-tinted regret leering at him in the distance. The house across the water.
Two people live at the residence: Tom Buchanan (gleeful villain, Joel Edgerton), but more importantly to Gatsby, Tom's wife, Daisy (Carey Mulligan).
We are kept at a distance from these characters, the audience views them through the eyes of newcomer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). The spectacular parties are taken in with Carraway's wide-eyed wonder, but the more time Nick spends around Daisy, Tom and Gatsby, the more cracks appear in the veneer. As each party brings Daisy and Gatsby together, tragedy comes closer to West Egg.
Very rarely have an actor and a role seemed tailor-made for each other. DiCaprio has similarly crafted his own self-image that is equally as polished as Jay Gatsby's. Both men know the practiced smiles and the rapport that you utilize with others while keeping other feelings locked down. Portions of Gatsby fall flat (Daisy never seems like the woman that would inspire a feud), but DiCaprio's embodiment as the titular character never ceases to amaze.
The reason why The Great Gatsby didn't work in the 1974 film starring Robert Redford is because previous filmmakers felt the need to rigidly adhere to the source material. When source material is treated with such reverence, the product feels overly sacred and keeps the audience at a distance. Bringing the story to life is difficult because what grips reader about the book is not the dialogue or Carraway's voiceover, it's Fitzgerald's prose that makes the story and prose isn't adaptable.
To make up for that, a sense of style has to be melded into the story.
Baz Luhrmann has been flogged as an auteur with an overly sweet tooth, yet Luhrmann's choice to create an over-the-top Jazz Age America is an intentional decision. This effort is sure to bring Moulin Rouge! to mind, but it is a shot of energy into a summer that lacks a distinct touch. The glitzy and confetti covered world Gatsby and Daisy live in is a hollow one, one made more heart-breaking by the optimism surrounding them.