By Shari Phiel
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters, Bryan Brown
Screenwriters: Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie
MPAA Rating: PG-13
3 ½ Stars out of 5
I seem to be fated lately to see movies that I have eagerly anticipated only to be left feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Such was the case with Baz Luhrmann’s latest directorial endeavor “Australia.”
Starring Luhrmann’s fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley and recently named Sexiest Man of the Year, Hugh Jackman (a title I readily agree with) as the Drover, the film looks to be the kind of sweeping epic that Oscar voters just love, replete with panoramic views, wartime strife and two love stories – one that crosses social boundaries, the other crossing racial lines.
Unfortunately, like so many other movies I’ve seen lately, Luhrmann fails to deliver that over-the-top, amazing “WOW” film I was looking for. “Australia” isn’t a bad film by any means. It’s just not a great film.In fact, it seemed like there were either two films going on here or two directors. Known for odd, quirky characters, frenetic editing and heavy use of bright red lipstick, Luhrmann is best known for 1992 sleeper hit “Strictly Ballroom,” the modernized, musical rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo + Juliet,” and, of course, Oscar winning “Moulin Rouge” which also starred Kidman. And for the first third or so of “Australia,” you are left with no doubt this is a Luhrmann film.
Somewhere along the way, the film loses much of those characteristics associated with a Baz Luhrmann film. That’s not to say that a director can’t change his style or methods. It’s just that coming mid-stream is a bit disconcerting. I kept waiting for all of those things I’m so familiar with in his films to reappear, and which were there in the film to start with, but they never do.
The film opens with Lady Ashley traveling “down under” in search of her wayward husband. Believing him to be a philandering wastrel at best, she is neither surprised or put off when her husband fails to meet her at the train station upon her arrival, instead fobbing her off on an associate know only as the Drover. Kidman seemed right at home in her role as the tight-lipped, out-of-place, conservative English noblewoman struggling to adapt to a climate, culture and people she knows nothing about.
Assigned with the task of escorting Lady Ashley to her new home, the Drover is just the kind of rough-and-tumble fellow you would expect to find in the Outback. He doesn’t live by anyone’s rules but his own, and he doesn’t live by anyone’s schedule but his own.
It should come as no surprise that the two fall madly in love, although neither was overly willing to accept that fact.
Throughout all of this turmoil is the story of Nullah, played with beautiful intensity by newcomer Brandon Walters. Nullah is a half-Aborignal/half-White young boy living on Lady Ashley’s ranch. The film provides an excellent look at the horrific treatment of the Aboriginal peoples in Australia and the shameful practice of placing mixed race children into church-run schools against the wishes of their parents; along with the impact of the government’s actions.
Although the movie is long (close to three hours) the complexity of the film’s storylines, the tremendous talents of all the actors – especially Walters – made this a film definitely worth seeing and certainly worth the price of admission.
<p>Fellow Aussie actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in Baz Luhrmann’s sweeping epic, “Australia.”</p>