Australia (2008)

Dir. Baz Lurhman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, etc.

I think Grace and Penny have the best chance of liking this, although I think most others will think it’s at least alright. (However, Larri gave this a 5, which surprised me.) The film entertained me for the most part, although there were a few parts where the film’s momentum stalled a bit.

I think I’ve heard people refer to this as the “Australian Gone With the Wind” and that’s an apt description–in terms of its two strong leads and epic romance that captures a place. The film also has a lot of similarities to Out of Africa–Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) goes to Australia to sell her husband’s property because she’s desperate for money. There she discovers that her husband has been killed and a rich cattle rancher, King Carney (Brown), who owns much of that region, has been stealing her husband’s cattle. Carney doesn’t want competition–especially since the British military are looking for cattle to feed the its troops–and when Lady Ashley discovers this, she is determined to drive the cattle to the docks, where the British await. She needs some help, so she enlists the rugged, Drover (Jackman). The film also involves a half-Aboriginal, half-Caucasian child and a second part of the film, which involves Japanese invasion as part of the WWII. The film also has elements of The African Queen (the uncouth man who falls for the prim and proper woman) and Red River (the cattle drive).

The film starts off promising. I liked the tone and the visuals, which created a kind of larger-than-life adventure film, not necessarily realistic drama. The feeling is part Classic Hollywood and part comic book. The filmmakers create this by conspicuously using a lot of “green screen” shots versus location shooting. This made you aware that you were watching a film, rather than real life, and I think that contributed positively in some ways. On the other hand, the film could have had a more powerful epic feel in a Leanian sense, if they shot more on location with panoramic shots. (Perhaps, budget was a key factor.)

The biggest downfall of the movie, however, was the fact that the film seemed to combine two stories–the cattle drive and the Japanese attack–in one film. If Lurhmann had focused on the cattle drive–maybe used on location shooting and developed the characters more especially King Carney’s villainy. He may have also been able to weave into the Nullah’s (Walters) story–both the Walkabout issue and being taken away to an orphanage–without taking the film into WWII territory. It almost seems like the screenwriters were dead-set on having that war backdrop, which did lead to very dramatic and romantic scenes. But it also made the film awkward and rushed–particularly in the transition from the cattle drive to the WWII storyline.

By the way, I sometimes complain about the cliches in a film, and this one had its share. But I actually don’t have a problem with cliches if the filmmakers execute the story and create likable characters. There were some touching moments, moments of romance and action (stampede and docking scene). In this way, the film sort of reminded me of Titanic–not original, but effectively romantic. (Kidman and Jackman’s chemistry and charisma weren’t equal to DiCaprio and Winslet’s though.)

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