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Moulin Rouge
2001 - PG-13 - 126 Mins.
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Producer: Baz Luhrmann, Fred Baron, Martin Brown
Written By: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, Richard Roxburgh
Review by: David Trier
   
Hey, man, I have free passes to Moulin Rouge! You busy on Saturday? Well, said I, I will be flossing that day... and the film looks dreadful... but... free, huh? So I snuggled into my free screening seat, expecting a cross between Pulp Fiction, Eyes Wide Shut, and Showgirls (this is a bad thing). But despite myself, I found this film delightful and impressive.

The story follows the romantic experience of Christian (Ewan McGregor), a young penniless poet from England who's recently moved to France to be a part of the Bohemian revolution. I think this is the one where France traded armpit shaving for group sex, but I might be mistaken. Anyway, Christian quickly finds himself befriended by a group of zany actors and writers hoping to produce a play. Meanwhile, The Moulin Rouge nightclub, run by Mr. Zidler (Jim Broadbent), serves to entertain with the best of the underworld, including their star performer, Satine (Nicole Kidman). Satine, whom we would describe as a "performing escort", hopes to impress the Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh) who might make her a star. But a big mess is created when she confuses Christian for the Duke and they fall in love. Through some clever trickery and lucky mistakes, the Duke is convinced to produce Christian's play, turning the nightclub into a theatre and Satine into a "real actress" on the grounds that he will have her for his own in the end. The play parallels the rest of the story as she is torn between the poor man she loves and the rich and powerful man she is promised to. And so on and so forth...

This is a difficult film to review. First off, not that marketers would have noticed, this is a musical. Musicals are afforded a level of absurdity, incongruity, impossibility, and silliness we can't allow narrative films to get away with. You sound foolish saying something couldn't happen, because nothing in a musical is likely in the first place. This aside, Moulin Rouge is really quite impressive, from both performance and production value angles. Ewan McGregor has always delivered acceptable performances, but here he shines with an enormous energy and a very likeable singing voice. Sounding less like a standard musical theater student and more like Sting, McGregor is consistently watchable. And he convincingly brings out Christian's almost cartoonish romanticism, making him a fairytale character that we can still identify with. Nicole Kidman, who's been anywhere from stylish (To Die For) to god-awful (Eyes Wide Shut), delivers well throughout. Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) is frightfully expressive and demanding on the screen, in many ways the star of the show. Richard Roxburgh, whose dramatic performance in Children of the Revolution was superb, pulls off a very entertaining nemesis character that should keep him from disappearing anytime soon. John Leguizamo, who is usually very good, plays a rather irritating character I thought. And it's unclear why (or how) they bothered to make him a midget. But he does have his moments, particularly towards the end.

The cinematography and special effects are fantastic, employing quite a few things we've never seen before. The opening credits may be the best display, but there are plenty of moments throughout the film that are jaw-dropping. The sets and costumes are all brilliant, probably something that will take up an extra disc on the DVD release. However, one could easily argue that this brilliance is a little blinding. Writer/director Baz Luhrmann's lack of restraint makes for too many things on the screen at the same time. This, combined with some excessive jump-cuts, can be a little nauseating. And the casts' often freaky wide-eyed performances (standard musical fare) sometimes make me borderline suicidal. The first half hour of the film is much too fast and overstimulating. It's impossible to tell what's going on because they keep telling you so bluntly and forcefully that it makes your head spin. The first musical number is not only too long, but altogether too much at once, and my biggest fear was that the whole movie would be like that. But after its troubled start, the film clears up and allows itself to simply be entertaining, recognizing it doesn't have to prove anything, it just has to be worth my time.

It's an unusual way to tell a story to say the least. Rather than come up with trite and mind-numbing original songs, most of them are made up of interpreted pieces of anacronistic songs we all recognize, like Madonna's Like a Virgin, The Sound of Music, and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit to name a few. If this is just a ploy to get non-musical people in the seats, then I regret to inform the producers that it was... effective. The film is visually stunning, musically entertaining, and just plain fun. The story is about as unoriginal as it gets. A woman with a past torn between the man who can give her everything she thought she wanted and the man with nothing who she really loves. The love story doesn't get much more traditional than that. But the way in which this tale is being re-told shines with originality.

I saw about five minutes of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, which was enough to convince me I could skip it. But I think his appreciation for film, dancing, music, and pop culture may have found a peculiar, yet spectacular home in Moulin Rouge.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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