There’s a lot of noble filmmaking intention underpinning this sweeping epic but unfortunately director Baz Luhrmann does not show enough directorial control of the material, leaving a film that is corny, sometimes silly, stunningly beautiful, but mostly lacking a cohesive narrative and theme.
The concept of this film in a Hollywood sense is highly unusual. Director Baz Luhrmann deserves credit for twisting the arm off of some studio executive in Tinseltown for allowing him to spend well over $100 million on a film that probably will not resonate with the American audience. Given that he was given the green light, it is understandable that Luhrmann wanted to put as much as he could in to the film and in this respect, the film does not disappoint. The images are bold and magnificent, the characters are colourful and larger than life, and the story is epic, covering much Australian thematic ground such as life in the Outback on a cattle station in the late 1930′s, the treatment of Aboriginal children by the authorities (ie the Stolen Generations), the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, culminating with a massive, sweeping love story between the lead characters Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) and the Drover (Hugh Jackman).
There are moments in this film that are magical, that capture the frontier spirit and the larger than life scenarios depicted. The bombing of Darwin is of course the major epic sequence in the film, but scenes of Lady Ashley, the Drover and the team moving fifteen hundred cattle across the Outback and the dangers that they face from their competitors is likewise spectacular, which is an unexpected surprise given one might not automatically think that moving cows around across a desert would be cinematically interesting. Hugh Jackman is perfect as the Drover; it’s hard to believe that Russell Crowe was the original choice for this role because he would not have suited it all. The astonishing discovery of this film is young child actor Brandon Walters who plays young Aboriginal boy Nullah; not only does he have a strong gravity on screen that holds your interest but he is a born actor, conveying a wide range of emotions that you cannot help but feel sympathy for. However, the best thing about this film is the fact that it got made at all; a huge sweeping epic telling an otherwise little-known, but dramatic part of Australian history is something to be celebrated, and Baz Luhrmann deserves all the kudos for getting this film made.
Unfortunately, director Baz Luhrmann never quite has control of the grandness of what he is trying to achieve, leaving a film that is in cohesive in terms of structure, plot and theme. In terms of individual scenes, the film works well; as a whole, it does not come close to a knockout punch because it can never decide what that punch is. Is it the epic love story? The treatment of Aboriginal children as part of the Stolen Generations? The bombing of Darwin and World War II? The harsh reality of life in the Outback (or likewise the grandeur and beauty of it)? The dark underbelly of humanity and those things we are capable of? All of these themes on their own are big and strong, but because they are not dealt with the right amount of gravity, the whole enterprise becomes two-dimensional.
It does not help either that Nicole Kidman puts in a fairly average performance as Lady Ashley. It’s true she gets better as the film goes along, but the opening sequences with her character border on stupidity and silliness. Ironically, the aspect of the film designed to entice the American audience is also its most cringeworthy; the blatant use of Aussie accents. Hugh Jackman is okay, but he still gets to say “crickey” about ten times. Poor Bryan Brown and David Wenham have to really belt that accent out. It’s sad that the only way Australians sell themselves to the world is through that damn accent and it definitely works against the film. Overall, Baz Luhrmann could not tame this epic beast; “Australia” is noble, but deeply flawed and the Australian Tourism Board and Film Industry were probably not wise to hope that it would revive their respective interests.
For the original review, follow this link: http://www.allaboutmovies.net/filmreviewaustralia.htm
Todd Murphy is a staff reviewer at the film/DVD review web site, All About Movies.net – for all the latest reviews on the newest releases. He also contributes reviews and articles for the Digicosm Film Blog: http://www.filmannex.com/Digicosm