Movie reviews: The Great Gatsby

Faced with the challenge of filming a literary classic, a director can opt for a slavish devotion to the original text or to adapt the source material for a different kind of storytelling.

Baz Luhrmann, who directs The Great Gatsby (12A) and co-writes alongside Craig Pearce, has boldly attempted to fuse both options as he retells F Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel, in which Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) introduces us to his new friend, the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) of Long Island, and recounts the tragedy of Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). The story is set against a backdrop of the Roaring Twenties, at a time when Wall Street was already hurtling headlong towards the Great Crash of 1929 and when illicit fortunes could be made bootlegging cheap liquor. . Luhrmann’s early set-ups are artfully achieved, establishing the geography of the East and West Egg communities of Long Island and their proximity to New York, all of it achieved with swooping, swirling tracking shots that convey the disorientating intoxication of the period. Gatsby’s infamous parties are fabulously shot, as hedonists in glamorous flapper frocks swarm through his mansion with a soundtrack of throbbing hip-hop replacing the jazz tunes of Fitzgerald’s novel. It’s all very reminiscent of Luhrmann’s best work to date, Romeo + Juliet (1996), which updated Shakespeare’s original setting to include cars and guns, and also starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Here the actor is brilliantly cast, his somewhat stilted bonhomie masking a brooding obsession and an inferiority complex. Carey Mulligan isn’t given a whole lot of material to work with, and her Daisy Buchanan, though subtly done, is a largely vacuous character. The supporting cast of Elizabeth Debicki, Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher turn in solid performances, with the bright-eyed Tobey Maguire in excellent form as Gatsby’s conscience and scribe. Luhrmann over-eggs the pudding on a number of occasions in his eagerness to remain faithful to the novel, but despite its flaws and occasional eccentricities, The Great Gatsby is a beguiling experience.

Danish cargo ship the MV Rosen is attacked in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates in A Hijacking (15A), its crew held for ransom as the pirates negotiate with the parent shipping company back in Copenhagen. Writer-director Tobias Lindholm is best known for his scriptwriting on the critically acclaimed TV series Borgen, and A Hijacking is a master-class in characterisation and tension. There are no larger-than-life heroes on display here; instead we get the human frailties and helplessness of the MV Rosen’s cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), juxtaposed with the iron-willed negotiator in Copenhagen, the company chief executive Peter (Soren Malling). On one level a tense game of high-stakes poker, the movie also explores the morality of playing off profit against human lives, but both strands benefit hugely from excellent performances from the two leads, and particularly Asbaek, who brilliantly conveys the agony of living through a hellish couple of months in squalid conditions.Crisply directed, with hardly a frame allowed go to waste, the movie drives relentlessly on to its climax.

Simon Killer (18s) stars Brady Corbet as American student Simon, a recent graduate who arrives in Paris in the hope of reconciling with his ex-girlfriend. Instead, Simon strikes up a tentative relationship with Marianne (Constance Rousseau) after wandering into a brothel, and soon he has moved in with her, and is hatching plans to extort her clients. Written and directed by Antonio Campos, Simon Killer is a fascinating exploration of a damaged masculinity. Corbet turns in an absorbing performance as the creepily intense Simon, a repulsive but engrossing character who is as prone to embarrassing fits of self-pity as he is to abusive violence. Rousseau is equally impressive, despite her character’s passive nature, and the pair dovetail superbly.

Also released this week is The Fast and the Furious 6 (12A), which stars Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. At the time of going to press, no media screening was available.


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