Albie Hay’s review published on Letterboxd:
On the strength of Moulin Rouge! (I don't remember much about Romeo + Juliet other than that it was better than this), I can safely say that Baz Luhrmann is up there with Jean-Luc Godard as one of the most annoying and self-satisfied filmmakers there has ever been. Moulin Rouge! is the kind of film, like Pierrot le Fou, whose faults are amplified in hindsight, and in fact I really am struggling to find anything good to say about it.
My thoughts about the film are rather messy, so I've decided to sort them into four key points:
- I don't think I've seen a film with more unwarranted visual excess than this one. Luhrmann's Paris is a CGI fabrication that, while conceptually interesting, is the first thing we're presented with, which underlines how tough we'll find the rest of the film to swallow. The colours are eye-poppingly intense, but the hectic camerawork and editing do it no favours whatsoever. Evidently Luhrmann doesn't have enough faith in himself to give us something we can properly feast our eyes on.
- There are times when we get the impression that Luhrmann is poking fun at the musical genre, stripping away the tasteful orderliness that's come to define it (I'm pretty sure Bob Fosse had already done that, but OK). But this doesn't make sense if you consider the film's tone and pace. It begins on a note of unbridled exuberance, only to devolve into a dull, gloomy pop-musical melodrama. Luhrmann evidently doesn't think he has it in himself to finish the job he started.
- If the above don't sound much like problems to you, you clearly haven't seen it and haven't experienced either of the things I've mentioned combined with Luhrmann's treatment of his actors. Kidman and McGregor are the only ones he seems to think are worth taking seriously, and he directs the rest of the cast to unbearable performances. Beyond the hamminess is an underlying vapidity to everyone from John Leguizamo's Toulouse-Lautrec to Richard Roxburgh's Duke, and because Luhrmann has the players overact so unreasonably, we want to kill all the characters. Of course they're made unlikeable by the plot in the first place so it's hardly the actors' fault.
- One of the film's more heinous sins is its blase appropriation of a host of great songs. If you're going to use these songs, at least do them justice, which means not splintering them into quirky "arrangements". There are too many examples of this to mention.
So there you have it. Moulin Rouge! spends so much time trying to be provocative that it basically invites us to see right through it. An overcooked shambles of style and flourish which clearly works for some, but definitely not me.