Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I had a hard time rating this movie. My first instinct after leaving the theatre was "most definitely four stars," but then I started thinking about the stuff that didn't work; the times the style overrode and obscured the content and I thought, "Maybe it really isn't worth four stars."
This is not a perfect film, but it is outstanding, loud, astonishing, beautiful, funny, and, yes, tragic; tragic in that grand sweeping way that only an opera can be tragic. Moulin Rouge is being billed as a movie musical, but it is really a tragic operetta and for reviving, renewing, and re-energizing a lost form, and doing it so well it deserves four stars.
Ewan McGregor plays Christian, a young naïve writer who comes to a highly fictionalized and fantastical turn of the 20th century Paris. There he falls in with a crowd of bohemian artists led by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo). The bohemians are writing a show, "Spectacular Spectacular", to be performed at the hot nightspot, the Moulin Rouge. They want Christian to write the show for them and send him to convince the star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine (Nicole Kidman) to star in the show. On the same night, Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge, has arranged for Satine to meet the Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh), a potential investor. Satine mistakes Christian for the Duke and takes him to her bedchamber, where they both fall in love. Satine however is a courtesan and love for her is a foolish risk, especially since the Duke's investment could be Satine's chance to become a legitimate actress.
The film lets you know that there will be no happy ending. It is told in flashbacks as the bedraggled Christian sits at a lonely typewriter. Satine is dead when the film begins. Despite the tragic plot (a combination of Camille, La Bohème and Showgirls) the film is as funny as it is moving. A good deal of the humor comes from Luhrman's magical directing style, that mixes reality and fantasy with quirky camera angles, quick cuts and lots of cheesy special effects. The music itself also adds humor. The visuals might be 1900's but the music is a collage of modern songs ranging from Nirvana to The Sound of Music. While the recognition of the songs brings laughter to the audience and sometimes distracts from the scene, the songs are often shockingly appropriate. The production numbers are thrilling and gorgeous, particularly the tango led by the narcoleptic Argentinian (Jacek Koman) near the end of the film. John O'Connell's choreography is super sexy as always (he also choreographed Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet). Angus Strathie's costumes and Martin Ash and Andrew Powell's set designs are stunning.
The performances really hold the film together and save it from being merely splendid eye candy. McGregor and Kidman give performances that are as gorgeous as they are, and they sing, too. Broadbent and Roxburgh are very talented character actors and really shine particularly in their big song-and-dance number. Jacek Koman dances, sings, and spontaneously falls asleep beautifully.
Special praise should go to the poor woman who got all the rights to the songs. I cannot find her name, but she did good work. [The IMDb lists about a dozen people involved with the music, both male and female. They also list the choreographer as John 'Cha Cha' O'Connell -- quite possibly the first Irishman to have that nickname. Except for me, of course. --Ed.]
The film is a great time and cathartic, too. See it and bring a few hankies.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Moulin Rouge (2001)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings