Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Australia is at the center of a very divided public. There have been some wonderful things said about the movie, and some terrible things. In fact, even the group that I went with was divided- though not as polarized. Our impressions ran the gamut from terrible to mediocre. I think I had the best impression of it, though I would still rate it as "just okay." Australia is long- very long. But there's a lot there. Perhaps too much for its own good. The movie struggles to find what it really wants to be. Is it love story set in the wilds of Australia? Well, yeah, except for the war tacked on to the last hour, and the ever present oppression of the aborigines. Australia tries to say a lot, but just seems to get bogged down in its own self importance.

The movies follows the wandering story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) as she takes over the management of an Australian cattle ranch following the death of her husband. She grows as she takes on her competitor, King Carney (Bryan Brown) who owns half of northern Australia, as they vie to provide beef to the Australian army. At her side is Drover (Hugh Jackman) the man responsible for driving the cattle, and Nullah (Brandon Walters) a half aborigines boy, whom Lady Ashley sort of adopts. The movie explores the struggle to save the ranch, the struggle to keep Nullah out of the hands of the missionaries, and the struggle within Drover between following his untamed lifestyle, and his romantic relations with Lady Ashley. And these are just desperately over simplified explanations of the plots. Australia truly has an epic web of story lines.

The movie was indeed beautiful to look at. The Australian outback was incredible in its scope, and the scenes where Drover, Lady Ashley, and their workers are driving the cattle into Darwin are breathtaking. Unfortunately, pretty pictures can only hold for so long- not almost 3 hours. In fact, it takes a lot to hold an audience's attention for that long. Very few movies can.

The movie was not bad for about the first half. The conflict between the Ashley camp and the Carney camp, and the moderately exciting cattle drive were enjoyable. Even the development of the relationship between Drover and Lady Ashley fell in step with traditional Baz Luhrmann romance stories. But after three or four times of me thinking, "this would be a good place to end it," the movie kept going.

One thing about Luhrmann is that is excellent with revolutionary concepts and styles. Romeo and Juliet was a fantastic update of one of the most fundamental stories of all time. And the style of Moulin Rouge! still blows me away. The point is that neither of these movies required the greatest acting. The concept and in Moulin Rouge's case- the music- carried the movies. No such luck in Australia. Now I'm not saying Hugh Jackman wasn't good. He was the best in the cast. Nicole Kidman I never think is all that strong. And Nullah, the aboriginal boy, sometimes bordered on being as irritating as Short Round in Temple of Doom.

On top of everything, even on top of the war, there was the themes of the missing generations- in which the government took aboriginal children from their families. These seems to have been an important theme to Luhrmann, but it was almost lost in the shuffle of everything else. The scenes with Nullah's mystic grandfather therefor just seemed out of place.

Australia wasn't terrible. But I must warn you, it's not a movie to go see unless you're in the mood to see that movie specifically. Despite being too large and too ambitious for its own good, there were still some moments that were gems. Australia certainly isn't a bomb, and it hasn't brought down my esteem for Luhrmann. It's simply that he tried to cover just too much and as a result, everything suffered.


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