Beware of the plot beneath the packaging

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY

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(12A, 143 min)

At every great party, there is that inescapable moment when the music stops, the lights go up and all of the imperfections, which have been concealed so deliciously under a cloak of darkness, are suddenly thrown into sharp relief.

The heady air of booze-fuelled anticipation and flirtatious possibility dissipates in an instant.

That crushing, mournful realisation that the euphoria was just an illusion will be shared by audiences, who stumble bleary-eyed out of Baz Luhrmann’s visually sumptuous and overlong adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald.

The Great Gatsby is a razzle dazzle of gorgeous costumes, jaw-dropping set design and directorial brio that effortlessly evokes the excesses of swinging 1920s New York.

The whirling camerawork and explosions of retina-searing colour, which have become Luhrmann’s trademark, embolden every impeccably crafted frame, bejewelled with dream-bubble flashbacks, slow-motion swoops and a blizzard of typewriter letters that fall into the words of the film’s voiceover narration.

Predictably, the visionary film-maker seizes the 3D format by the scruff of the neck and flings champagne corks, fireworks and iridescent party streamers at the camera like a mad man.

As one character remarks, “What a circus!”

Yet this is a circus lacking the big emotional wallop that epitomised the Australian ringmaster’s other love stories including Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge!.

Mysterious war hero Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) lives in a bay-side mansion with a menagerie of servants, who help him throw the most extravagant parties for the whole of New York.

Lowly stockbroker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who lives next door to this hullabaloo, is drawn into Gatsby’s orbit and falls under his neighbour’s spell. As the stockbroker is granted admission to the millionaire’s inner circle, he discovers heartbreak in Gatsby’s past linked to his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who lives across the bay with her philandering husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton).

While Tom conducts a tawdry affair with a married woman called Myrtle (Isla Fisher), Daisy seeks refuge in Nick’s company and with her gal pal Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki).

Rip away the luxurious and gaudy packaging, and The Great Gatsby is reduced to an emotionally undernourished romance that fails to tug the heartstrings even with Craig Armstrong’s score swelling and swooning in all of the right places. DiCaprio inhabits his central role with conviction but sparks of screen chemistry with an expertly coiffed Mulligan fail to ignite.

Newcomer Debicki is far more captivating, shimmying through every frame with a twinkle in her eye that is missing from the rest of the cast, except Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan in a cameo.

Star rating 5.5