Colourful vivid imagery permeates Moulin Rouge, one of the year's most visually appealling films, and also one of the cleverest for its use of contemporary pop music and lyrics set to a 1900 ambience.
The plot is a tried and tested one: Christian (Ewan McGregor) is a struggling writer in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. He wants to write about Love, but he has never experienced it. His colleagues therefore take him to the Moulin Rouge nightclub, where he, quite naturally, falls in love with the seductive courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman) who mistakes him for the Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh). His feelings are reciprocated by Satine, but she doesn't have the luxury of giving her heart to whoever she chooses.
When the confusion is cleared up, the Duke ends up financing the play Christian is writing, which characterises the love between Christian (where he represents a Sitar player in India) and Satine (a Princess), with the Duke (a Maharajah) as the villain. The Duke doesn't get the joke until the very end, when he finally lays his claim to Satine's heart, resulting in tragic consequences.
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor give stellar performances and the chemistry between them is excellent. John Leguziamo leading the pack of Christian's accomplices, and Jim Broadbent as Satine's godfather, do a good job of supplying the humour. Richard Roxburgh is a convincing villain.
The cleverness in this "pop opera" lies not only in using contemporary pop music, but also the lyrics in such a minimalist way that makes complete sense in the context of the plot. Considering that a focus of the film is about selling one self, songs like Roxanne, Material Girl, Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, and Like A Virgin are particularly appropriate. The selection of songs is diverse and pretty interesting. There are notable absences like Prince and Michael Jackson, though Madonna is featured twice.
The atmosphere in the film is surreal and "trippy". Director Baz Luhrmann does a great job in combining the visual imagery with the music over the solid plot to create a frenzied atmosphere that showcases the urgency of the lovers' predicament. In my review of Romeo and Juliet (which he also directed), I mention that it's like watching a two hour MTV video. That comment is even more appropriate for Moulin Rouge!, which I'd say is akin to an extremely well-made MTV video that captivates your senses. Who knows? This might herald a new era of modern day musicals.