Review: Australia

Australia One Sheet

Director: Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet)
Writer: Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan
Producers: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Knapman, G. Mac Brown
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 165 min


As the credits rolled for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, I struggled to remember whether I’d actually read an entire synopsis for the film. With a running time of nearly three hours and the glorious trailers and stills, I imagined it to be some sort of war epic with a love story in the backdrop. What I didn’t expect was a full blown romance with everything else in the background.

Australia Movie StillIn the tradition of the classic epics, think Gone With the Wind made in the 21st century, this is a story of love conquering all. It begins with Lady Sarah Ashley deciding to travel to Australia to sell the family’s defunct cattle ranch. Once there, she enlists the help of Drover, a wild Australian considered by many to be nothing more than a “black”, and in the process of driving 1,500 head of cattle from Faraway Downs to Darwin, she tames the “wild” man and the two fall in love. Sounds a bit cheesy? That’s because it is.

But the film isn’t all passionate looks across desert landscapes, cattle and dancing in the rain. Though the war plays a small part in the story, the film is more of a history lesson than anything else. Who ever would have though that my Anthropology classes on Australian Aborigines would come in handy? In actuality, they didn’t since Luhrmann and writers Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan do a good job of outlining the basics but I was surprised to find the role that these traditions play in the story. The incorporation of cultural aspects such as Dreaming, the oral tradition and even the walkabout come as a pleasant, if unexpected, surprise.

Australia Movie StillMore unexpected than the historical and cultural lesson is the traditional and predictable story: there are the lovers who, despite appearing to have nothing in common, fall for each other; a war that threatens to divide them; a rival cattle rancher who wants nothing more than to take full control of the business and will go to any length to get it; the separation of the lovers and then, at the end, the reunion. Perhaps it’s the look of the film or the actors but for one reason or another, the paint-by-numbers approach is mostly successful and the film moves along at a great pace, never slowing down enough to bore the audience. Some may find the return to the Aborigines’ story on the slow side but this appears to be one of Luhrmann’s major story points and though it’s slower than the rest of the film, it’s gorgeously shot. Particularly memorable is the montage of images of King George singing his way across the desert. Not only is the scene beautifully haunting but it also accentuates the fact that these people have survived on the land long before the white man arrived and will continue to survive, if not thrive, regardless of the “civilized” man’s attempt to change them into something they’re not. On a deeper level Australia is a story of race relations in the county, an unhealthy history that Luhrmann and his crew have decided is important to remember rather than brush under the mat to be forgotten. It’s a story of resilience that is apparent in both the Aborigine story and the romance except this particular history lesson looks better than most.

Australia Movie StillMandy Walker, one of the few female cinematographers working in the business, captures the magnificence of the continent with sweeping aerials and breathtaking sunsets which are as much of a “Travel Australia” commercial as they are backdrops for the steamy romance between the leads. Both Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are the embodiment of classic movie stars, Jackman’s Drover sweeping in to rescue Kidman’s apparently defenceless and clueless, Lady Ashley (or Mrs. Boss as she’s lovingly referred to) but as with Scarlett O’Hara before her, Mrs. Boss has more of a backbone than anyone expected. Kidman and Jackman ham up the performances, bringing the melodrama at all the appropriate points but the two leads also shift effortlessly into the quiet, intimate moments in which the two shine.

Australia is likely to surprise more than a handful of movie goers, it certainly surprised me, but there’s enough material to go around for everyone. Film snobs will revel in the beauty of the mise en scène while the rest will be content to take in the romance which is propelled forth by two very appealing leads who are continuously shown in provocative, if clichéd, scenes – how else are we to react to Jackman rounding up horses in slow motion; dust flying everywhere, sweat on his brow, sunset in the background? The melting hearts of the females in the crowd was audible.

Clear the evening, start with cocktails and a romantic dinner and prepare yourself to be swept away into a timeless romance.


Click “play” to see the trailer:

Links:
IMDb profile
Official Site
Flixster Profile for Australia

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Colleen
Guest

I'm glad you liked it Marina, as I am borderline hating the film. Seriously thought the film was a giant miss. There will be a drinking game made from the film. Everytime the word Crikey or Dorver is used take a shot. Most likely you'll be hospitalized before the film is over.

Ashley
Guest

Baz is all about the kitsch appeal, and I'll gladly take every frame of it he offers! 😀

Eaglewing
Guest

Nice review. I was looking forward to seeing this, but based on the trailers I thought it was more adventure epic with some romance mixed in instead of a 3 hour love story. Oops. A friend of mine mentioned he'd like to see it cause he thought it was a war / adventure movie too, but after I told him about this, we quickly decided it was a no go. I think I'll still watch it for the cinematography but will wait for DVD based on this new info, as well as the ending reshoot spoilers I was reading about on the web too.

If this is really a full blown romance movie, I think they may have made a serious marketing misstep. Maybe playing that up more would have nabbed some of the Twilight crowd and helped the dismal opening weekend total.

Marina
Guest

HIghly doubt they would have taken anything out of the Twilight crowd since most of the fans are too young to even care about an adult romance (it's all about what you can't have – and Edward [I can heard the sighing from here]) but it's a great point.

Ashley
Guest

I don't know what trailers you guys saw, but I knew going in that this was going to be cheesy and romantic to the max. And I don't think $20M is a bad opening weekend. It isn't spectacular like Twilight was, but I think this one might actually grow with word of mouth. I finally saw it today and the theatre was over half full for a Wednesday matinee. That's a pretty good sign in Toronto. It was exactly what I hoped it would be and I LOVED it! And I encourage everyone who wants to see it to do so at the theatre. The cinematography is one of the film's greatest assets, and it will definitely be marginalized on DVD, even with Blu-Ray and a 60" screen. Give the full blown big screen a go, you won't be sorry.

Jonathan
Admin

"I don’t know what trailers you guys saw, but I knew going in that this was going to be cheesy and romantic to the max."

Agreed, and part of the reason I want to see it is just that. They were advertising it like one of those old romantic epics like Gone With the Wind. And there is a place for that.

And I don’t think $20M is a bad opening weekend.

Agreed again. For the length and type of film, for it certainly not a film that will appeal to a younger audience (who bring in much of the cash for huge films), for the competition, I think it did mighty fine.

I hope to check this out soon… just haven't had any time sadly.

Andy
Guest

It's hard to film something that isn't beautiful in Australia. That country is AMAZING, scenically.

hugh jackman
Guest

It was hot and dusty during filming in one of the world's most remote locations. But Nicole Kidman says the prospect of a smooch with Hugh Jackman eased the troubles of working on the Outback romance, 'Australia.'

Jonathan
Admin

Mostly agree with the review. A solid enjoyable romance that was far less about the romance than about family in general. I love how it didn't take itself too seriously and it definitely didn't hurt that it was absolutely gorgeous visually.

Steve Ochs
Guest

I thought Australia made Luhrmann look desperate to look like Luhrmann! What are the odds my wife and i would actually turn off a perfect date-flick pairing of Jackman and Kidman? But Moulin Rouge inspired me as a filmmaker to delve into the world of fin du siecle Paris for "Le Petomane: Part Avec Le Vent" the "dramatic" story of history's greatest farter. The trailer is here, http://www.lepetomanefilm.com.

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