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Australia movie poster


Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:
Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Bruce Spence, Brandon Walters, Bryan Brown
Released by: 20th Century Fox

In Short: Baz Lurhmann's latest wants to be the definitive outback epic, but trades in its charm for routine blockbuster grandstanding all too quickly.


Way Out of the Outback
Australia Suffers From a Stampede of Melodrama

Somewhere in the bombastic, Bruckheimer-esque mess that is Australia, Baz Lurhmann has hidden a perfectly serviceable little film. And perhaps one day, a braver editor than he will chip away approximately an hour's worth of curdling cheese to find the charming story of a British aristocrat who employs a handsome cattle driver with strangely clean teeth to help deliver a herd across the Australian outback. Wicked, filthy men try to stop her and several less attractive characters die along the way, but good ultimately triumphs. It's a very enjoyable movie, despite being completely predictable, and there are even several genuinely touching moments between the aristocrat and the half-caste Aboriginal boy who begins to spark her maternal instincts. If only Lurhmann had left well enough alone.

Unfortunately, he and his fellow screenwriters decided that the simple little film needed an epic romance, mustache-twirling villains, shallow racial commentary, orphans in peril, wartime bombing runs and all the gaudy narrative ornamentation most directors learn to be frugal with. Practically genuflecting to every conceivable wish-fulfillment fantasy, Australia feels like several different films fighting to come out ahead, with Lurhmann's own distinctive style ultimately buried under mediocre melodrama. By the fourth tearful "I thought you were dead" reunion at the film's climax, viewers might be too exhausted to remember what they liked about it.

Nicole Kidman in Australia
Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in Australia

Playing the aptly-named "Drover" (as in "he drove those cows"), Hugh Jackman shows off some truly spectacular hair and pecs, but acting-wise, he's given little else to do than slowly realize his love for Lady Sarah Ashley while riding horses. Nicole Kidman fares better as the aforementioned Lady, coyly playing up on her own icy media persona before evolving into a headstrong, likable rancher. Already garnering even more attention is young Brandon Walters as the half-caste boy Nullah, who inspires the Drover and the Lady to form a makeshift family unit while he tries to define his own Aboriginal identity. Though not quite an acting powerhouse yet, Walters is undeniably a pretty charming kid, which can carry someone quite far in a film this thin.

The film's greatest failing may have simply been in choosing the title Australia to begin with. It seems to starkly promise all the epic sweep of what is a truly beautiful country, but the film never escapes its own location constraints and leaves one with the impression that the entire country was once run from a single wooden porch in Darwin. Even its handling of Australia's sordid past with the Aboriginal natives never quite lives up to its emotional promise, and unfortunately submits to the tired Hollywood device of portraying darker-skinned races as having access to mystical powers. Australia unfortunately proves the point that telling the story of such an unexpectedly fascinating country requires some unexpected approaches.

Reviewed by Matt Kane

PKR102808 (Updated: 11/26/08 KR)

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