Forgive me if this review sounds somewhat vague but Baz Luhrmann’s latest “Moulin Rouge” is, well hard to describe. Its a very good film to be sure, but there’s a sour edge to its sweet taste. I was trying hard to come up with a similar case and the closest example I can think of is “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.
Like that Coppola production, the film is vividly rich with amazing looks, great camera work and superb performances. However, that production and this suffer from a feeling that all the elements were there for a pure cinematic classic – but they just didn’t gel. Of Luhrmann’s three films (the other two being “Strictly Ballroom” & “Romeo + Juliet”), this is his most daring and original, but also the most limited in terms of appeal.
The characters are the key here, with the performances ringing through and despite all the talk about Nicole (who is ravishing and excellent), its actually McGregor who proves the highlight with a voice of both power and resonance. I also really enjoyed Jim Broadbent as the MR’s owner and wacky ringmaster Harold Ziegler, a young Hugh Hefner on an adrenalin rush is the best description I can give for him.
Richard Roxborough always does a good baddy and suits it well here but the character is still too flat to be of any interest and the accent is really irritating after a while. Most of the other cast members have such few lines they’re not really much more than extras, and I would’ve loved to have seen more with the likes of Caroline O’Connor. Others like John Leguizamo are wasted – there’s basically no sub-plots in this movie with all the action centering around the decent but overdone love story – its fine for the first hour maybe but drawn out over two it feels way overstretched.
While the script is on bare legs, everything else about the movie is not. The costumes are stunning, the sets rich and colourful like nothing you’ve seen, the cinematography and Luhrmann’s directing is adventurous, rousing and handled with deft touch. This takes the modern day music video style way of filming movies and moves it to a whole new level, in fact the first 10 minutes in the Moulin Rouge club itself with the can can scene is SO fast one feels like they’re going to faint from exhaustion just trying to keep up – its like Michael Bay on steroids.
Then there’s the score which is fantastic with some great songs redone in some imaginative ways. My personal faves are a love song medley that’s good fun, a hilarious rendition of “Like a Virgin”, a tango-ised harder take on The Police’s famous “Roxanne” track, and Nicole Kidman’s version of the ballad “One Day I’ll Fly Away”. The new song “Come What May” is nice but used to many times in the movie, whereas the great aforementioned songs used in this are squandered in the way that usually only half or even less than that of their running time is included.
“Moulin Rouge” looks like a work of art, but lacks the deeper meanings of great works. Its got a simple message that love is the greatest thing and conquers all – a lovely message which quickly becomes irritating after we’re beaten over the head with it for two hours. Had the story been fleshed out a little more and the editing chopped off a lot of the over-extended second half, this would’ve been a classic. As is though its still an extremely good movie with visuals and songs performed in a way that certainly make it worth seeing in the cinema.