What a piece of work is Luhrmann! He can't stage a scene for a couple, but handles a mob of tango dancers with apparently effortless aplomb. He fails to wring a tear from a tragic death scene, but offhandedly exposes the melting core of pure, romantic yearning in David Bowie's icy "Heroes." He's learned all the wrong lessons from dissident movie musicals like CABARET, filling dance sequences with fragmented, Fosse-esque shots of moving body parts without extending their isolated kineticism through editing. But he can roll together can-can dancers, "Lady Marmalade," top-hatted toffs, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nicole Kidman on a velvet swing and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (with just a flash of "Material Girl") into an intoxicating, flagrantly anachronistic confection that encapsulates a century of pop-culture attitudes towards love and sex. The director's audacious attempt to reanimate the classic musical with a shot of pure adrenaline right to the heart is never boring, often excruciating and occasionally transcendent, a "gargantuan bedazzlement" like the lavishly preposterous show his characters are mounting. 1899, Montmartre: Into this hotbed of vice and absinthe-fueled creativity comes straight-laced naif Christian (Ewan MacGregor), who dreams of love and literature. He finds kindred souls in the "Children of the Revolution," a loose-knit bohemian brigade dedicated to freedom, truth, beauty and, above all, love. Their ringleader, lisping artist Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), gets Christian a job writing an ill-defined show called "Spectacular Spectacular" for the dance hall-cum-brothel called the Moulin Rouge, and introduces him to exquisite, consumptive courtesan Satine (Kidman). Satine and Christian fall in love, but her favors are promised to the wealthy duke (Richard Roxburgh) who's underwriting both "Spectacular Spectacular" and the Moulin Rouge's conversion into a legitimate theater, where Satine hopes to become a respected actress like Sarah Bernhardt. This cliched romantic triangle is simply a framework on which to hang glittering production design and gloriously excessive musical numbers, some of them truly inspired: Who but Luhrman would have imagined the Police's "Roxanne" as a brutal tango pantomime? When the Duke declares petulantly, "I don't care about your silly dogma!" the subject is ostensibly the bohemians' show, an exotic tale of a Maharajah, his courtesan and a poor sitar player that mirrors Satine and Christian's affair. But it's hard not to hear Luhrman's voice, rejecting the stripped-down aesthetics of Dogme95 filmmakers: His belief in glorious artifice is so complete it feels like heresy to wince at his movie's frequent tumbles into pedestrian vulgarity.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: What a piece of work is Luhrmann! He can't stage a scene for a couple, but handles a mob of tango dancers with apparently effortless aplomb. He fails to wring a tear from a tragic death scene, but offhandedly exposes the melting core of pure, romantic year… (more)