The film, like its subject matter, is daring in the way it unveils its story. It employs a Citizen Kane–like structure to slowly divulge the mystery at its core: Who was Brian Slade?
In 1984, Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), a young British reporter working for an American paper, attempts to find out what happened to the pop star, whom he looked up to while on a path to sexual discovery. Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who thrusts his hips convincingly) is an icon for the Glam rock movement in the mold of David Bowie, complete with his own alter ego — Maxwell Demon. With a shock of blue hair and many revealing, glitter–covered outfits, Slade is never more potent as a leader of the flash stampede than when collaborating with Curt Wild, a Lou Reed–meets–Iggy Pop–type figure played by Ewan McGregor.
McGregor and Rhys Meyers have electric chemistry both onstage and in their eventual romantic entanglement, their outrageous antics evoking a reimagined movement of theatricality and sexual exploration. This is ultimately the great triumph of Velvet Goldmine; it is able to pay tribute to an era founded on the fluidity of identity and sexuality without shattering the mystique that sustained it.
Instead, director Todd Haynes has created a fantastical world of illusion that only still dazzles.