Wednesday 14 August 2019

Movie Review: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

A musical comedy drama and romance, Moulin Rouge! adopts a manic ostentatious style and anachronistic music to recreate the avant-garde flair of the famous nightclub.

It's Paris in 1900. Starving writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) falls in with a group of Bohemians including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) and helps them write a musical. They try to pitch the show called Spectacular, Spectacular to Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge, the hottest nightclub in town. In the process Christian meets and falls madly in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman), a courtesan and the Moulin's star performer, who is suffering a serious illness.

But wealthy investor The Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) also sets his eyes on Satine, and will only invest in expanding the club and financing the show if she becomes his own. As preparations for the show progress, an illicit love affair ensues between Satine and Christian behind the Duke's back, but it all comes to a head on opening night.

A deliberate investment in flair over content, Moulin Rouge! is more about the experience than the story. Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann pushes the cinematic form as close as possible to an overwhelming sensory experience to recreate what it must have been like in Paris' most celebrated social venue. After a slow start the film hits its stride and enjoys strong second and third acts, although every audacious scene dances on the line between triumph and disaster, with a few slipping over to the wrong side.

Nothing in Moulin Rouge! looks real, even by the standard of cinematic musicals. Frenzied editing, teeming crowds, disorienting close-ups, restless camerawork and outlandish set designs are both the foundations and unapologetic essence of the movie. Luhrmann drives for a surreal aesthetic on claustrophobic sets over-stuffed with extras, and an overall mischievously playful vibe inspired by troubled dreams.

The theme is as simple as love conquers all, the love triangle between Christian, Satine and the Duke the most basic of plot devices to hang all the jangling accessories on. Subliminal echoes of classic tragic romances such as Camille and La Boheme reverberate within all the theatrics. While the narrative is traditionally familiar, the music riffs on modern material from Madonna to Nirvana passing through Queen and Bowie and whatever else can be stuffed in between, lyrics from various sources often combined to convey a thought.

Kidman is in fine form and fully buys into what Luhrmann is selling, often to exaggerated extremes. She is ably supported by Jim Broadbent as impresario Harold Zidler, joining the ranks of Joel Grey and Gig Young in creating disturbingly memorable movie masters of twisted ceremony. In contrast Ewan McGregor never quite settles down into the role of Christian, and in the performance scenes remains a hesitant presence.

Madly fluctuating between magically joyous and utterly insane, Moulin Rouge! may not bring the house down but earns a standing ovation.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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