MOULIN ROUGE directed by Baz Luhrmann, written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, produced by Luhrmann, Fred Baron and Martin Brown, with Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo and Jim Broadbent. A Bazmark Films production. A 20th Century-Fox release. 125 minutes. Opens Friday (June 1). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 153. Rating: NN Rating: NN
baz luhrmann's moulin rouge is a hypertheatrical original musical.
It opened this year's Cannes festival and has already stirred up controversy over its use of modern pop tunes, from Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend to Elton John's Your Song. I was prepared for an anachronistic disaster on the level of Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.
Well, not quite. For one thing, Luhrmann's not pissing on a classic. For another, the musical is a more elastic form than tragedy in terms of what is and is not allowed.
The modern tunes in a late-19th-century setting are used very cleverly, and Moulin Rouge occasionally rises to remarkable heights, mostly when Luhrmann stops directing everything to within an inch of its life and unleashes Nicole Kidman's and Ewan McGregor's considerable charisma.
Kidman plays Satine, legendary (fictional) star of the Parisian nightclub, and McGregor is a penniless writer who falls in love with her. (And John Leguizamo plays Toulouse Lautrec. No, really.)
Luhrmann has a music-video aesthetic. He's not happy unless the camera is spinning in mid-air, the sets are morphing into something else and 19 things are happening simultaneously that he can cut between. Here, the songs operate less as musical numbers in the classical sense than as trailers for themselves. The staging of Sting's Roxanne as a tango is brilliant, but I wish Luhrmann would let us see the dancers make more than a couple of moves in sequence.
He's plainly a talented director -- he has a terrific eye and knows how to edit. But he so fears the diminishing attention span of his audience that he refuses to trust his material. Moulin Rouge's chestnut of a plot -- boy meets whore in a bohemian setting -- has worked in the past and doubtless will in the future. Because Luhrmann doesn't trust the story, though, he mostly ends up with airless frenzy, the Armageddon of movie musicals. You find yourself feeling grateful if the camera pauses for a beat to admire Kidman's porcelain beauty or when the sets shift and Kidman and McGregor dance in the Paris skyline.
If Moulin Rouge had a few more of these moments, you'd come out of it feeling exhilarated instead of like a cow that's been on the receiving end of a sledgehammer.