Starring: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Running Time: 127 mins
Moulin Rouge! is an American film about a penniless writer who moves to Paris at the turn of the 20th Century. Finding himself thrown into the Bohemian Revolution, he soon comes across and falls in love with Satine, a beautiful courtesan from the nearby club, the Moulin Rouge.
Baz Luhrmann is the best and worst thing about this film. On the one hand, it’s a visual masterpiece, with some of the most dazzling set pieces populated by beautiful costumes and sets. But on the other hand, it’s a frenetic, irritating and messy musical that doesn’t provide the same entertainment as its visual characteristics. What’s more, with an ensemble of painfully over-the-top performances, Moulin Rouge is a film that will have you cringing from beginning to end.
I’m going to start on the negative side this time, simply because there’s one thing about this film that I won’t forget: the editing. Now, I respect and admire Baz Luhrmann’s creative originality. I didn’t feel it worked in the frustrating Romeo + Juliet, but I was blown away by the energy that he brought to The Great Gatsby. Moulin Rouge, however, falls somewhere in the middle.
Whilst the thrilling final scene is an exception, the majority of this film is a dizzying display of excessively fast cuts and forced music remixes. The Great Gatsby does use this in its major party sequences, but they’re much fewer and further between than in Moulin Rouge. For example, the first half an hour is entirely composed of this sort of manic, frantic editing of both film and song, and it’s far too difficult to get on board with what is a very outlandish concept when your eyeballs and eardrums are being assaulted right from the off.
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get on board with Luhrmann’s style in Moulin Rouge, and although he does tone it down as the film goes on, the majority of the musical set pieces are plagued with this sort of frenetic visual and musical remixing that it’s difficult to focus on the best part of the film, the cinematography and production design.
This film is by far at its best in its calmest moments. Some tender scenes between Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are made all the more vibrant by the wonderful colour palette, seen within the backgrounds and costumes. What’s more is that the film has some brilliant transition sequences as it sweeps through the streets of Paris, giving a bustling energy to the surrounding area, but never going as overboard as the most frantic sequences.
Luhrmann’s directing style is very much hit-and-miss for me, and unfortunately, he doesn’t quite impress this time round. Another part of the film that’s disappointing is the performances. Once again, in the quieter moments, the A-list actors do impress, but given that the majority of the film is like walking through a hall of mirrors on acid, the actors put in some unnecessarily extravagant performances.
First off, Ewan McGregor shouts too much when he sings. His singing voice is fantastic, but I get the feeling that Luhrmann asked for too much from him in the musical numbers. Furthermore, Nicole Kidman’s performance is at times a little too theatrical (even for a film about the theatre), whilst Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo and Richard Roxburgh put in pretty insufferable, almost comical turns in supporting roles, which was a shame to see.
Overall, Moulin Rouge is a case of too much indulgence in one idea. The film may be a feast for the eyes, and its cinematography, production and costume design are beautiful, but it’s on the whole an excessively frantic, manic and messy affair that turns an impressively original Hollywood musical into a frustrating and often insufferable watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.6.