Australia

2009-02-06 13:38
 
Australia

What it' about:

As World War 2 breaks out across Europe, pampered English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) sets off for Darwin, Australia, to check up on her philandering husband's cattle farm, Faraway Downs. On arrival she learns of her husband's murder and finds herself caught up in a ruthless takeover attempt by the local cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) and his malicious henchman Neil Fletcher (David Wenham). Sarah enlists the help of the unnamed ranch drover (Hugh Jackman) to herd 1 500 heads of cattle across the unforgiving terrain of the Australian Outback in a race against Carney for a military contract to supply meat to the British army stationed in the territory. Sarah's stiff upper lip begins to fade as she falls for the drover and forms a bond with Nullah (Brandon Walters) a young Aboriginal boy who lives and works on her farm.


What we thought of it:

It took director Baz Lurhmann four tireless, maddening years to bring this epic love story to fruition. And it's easy to see why the director, renowned for being unfamiliar with the term "half measures" had poured so much of himself into this love letter to the land of his birth.

And what a stunning visual feast it is. Every frame is suffused with lush landscapes, burnished horizons and, obviously, very good-looking actors strutting across the screen. In typical Luhrmann style, Australia starts out as a rollicking adventure comedy, with nods to every Hollywood classic from Out in Africa to The Good the Bad and the Ugly and Gone with the Wind. Sarah's swift arrival at Faraway Downs soon leads to relationships being developed with the people she now has to take responsibility for in her deceased husband's absence.

Her first meeting with the muscled, tough as nails drover sears with unbridled sexual tension, and it doesn’t take brain surgery to deduce that those two will settle their differences and have it on with each other before long. But central to the magical charm of Australia is the performance by 12-year-old Brandon Walters as Nullah, an Aboriginal boy of mixed race who is, throughout the movie, on the run from the "coppers", tasked by the authorities to round up all half-caste children and effectively imprison them on an island in order to re-educate them.

Only the hardest, coldest of hearts will be immune to the sun-bleached hair, saucer-shaped brown eyes and impish innocence of this young talent. Sure, Kidman and Jackman are the names that will get your attention, but it’s the young Walters that you will remember at the end of it all.

But Australia isn’t a mere relationship drama. It offers insight into Aboriginal culture with a degree of magic realism, and offers another perspective on the most shameless policy of racial discrimination in Australia's history. The movie also boasts a thrilling stampede scene as Sarah and the droving party attempt to prevent their herd from running off the edge of a cliff. It's stunningly shot, edge-of-your seat stuff.

Australia's undoing, however, is an extraneous third act that comes just as all appears to have been resolved. Sarah and Drover suddenly find themselves on the rocks and then, what d'you know, World War 2 decides to bring its nastiness Down Under, erupting into scenes of such beautiful violence it's hard to tell just what the reasoning for this sequence is, if only to remind us that the characters are still part of the real world.

Tipping over the three-hour mark, Australia demands quite a lot from its audience, but is nonetheless an entertaining and richly rewarding cinematic experience. With it's old-fashioned Hollywood production values and unabashed celebration of heritage, love, family and putting one over the bad guy, it will elicit either intense love or loathing. It's just that kind of movie.



Epic doesn’t even begin to describe Baz Luhrmann’s stunning love letter to the land of his birth. Australia deserves to be seen to be believed.

grant aubin 2009/01/06 4:04 PM
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Gone With the Wind meets Red River and The Big Country - Oz Style. With added magic realism and a touch of Rabbit-Proof Fence. The digital effects suck, but the film rocks. It's simply great fun. The scenery is awesome, the leads are sexy, the little boy (Brandon Walters) is amazing, there's plenty of action and it's both passionately romantic and funny. I also got a kick out of all the great Aussie character actors from those splendid seventies Oz flicks (Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, John Jarratt, Barry Otto, Bill Hunter, Bruce Spence, David Gulpilil and more)who pop up all over the picture. If old-fashioned escapism and melodrama on a grand scale is your thing, watch it. 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
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