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124 of 142 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Baz salutes Howard Hawks, January 23, 2009
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This review is from: Australia [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I love Howard Hawks' films...Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, Red River, and Rio Bravo are amazing pieces of entertainment. As I was watching Australia, the new Baz Luhrmann movie with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, I kept thinking...man, Baz must really love Hawks' movies, too.

As evidenced by the films above, the mismatched couple who fight and fight until they realize they're perfect for each other (see Much Ado About Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, and Moonlighting as other examples of the form) and the group of underestimated misfits who come together to fight evil are two big elements used again and again by Hawks. Throw in a bit of John Ford's The Searchers and its hard look at racism leading to inhuman deeds and mix well and you have...Australia.

The problem modern audiences may have with Luhrmann's new movie is it's very, very earnest. This is straight ahead epic storytelling with its heart on its sleeve and hat and boots with never a wink to the crowd in the theater to say "ain't these people quaint". You either buy in or you don't. If you do, like I did, you're in for a hell of a ride.

This, I feel, is the flip-side to The Dark Knight. Good and evil are trapped in something akin to a battle and an embrace in Nolan's Gotham City. You root for Batman, but he does stuff that is on the wrong side of freedom and civil rights. The Joker is pure crazy, but he's the most mesmerizing character in the film. In Australia, there are good guys and bad guys and you are either really good or twirl your mustache evil. The main villain actually may be a bit too two-dimensional in that aspect, but it didn't hurt my overall enjoyment.

Why? Well, epic melodrama is hard to pull off...I'm talking about the real stuff here. The recent BBC production of Bleak House is a great example. There are very good and very, very bad people in that story, but the acting is so fantastic you rarely if ever catch yourself rolling your eyes (like whenever I've watched Smallville...see: bad epic melodrama). Kidman and Jackman sell their characters...the displaced Englishwoman and the rough-hewn "Drover". They are thrown together just to, initially it seems, thwart a nasty cattle baron from monopolizing the beef industry in the country. But the other big story, the main one in fact, centers around Australia's "lost generation". These were Aboriginal children who were fathered by white men who didn't claim them. They were taken by the government, the mothers had no rights, and handed over to the church to be taught to "act white" and then work in the servant class. Nullah, played by the fantastic child actor Brandon Walters, is one of these "creamies" who has been hidden on the ranch now owned by Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman). Lady Ashley discovers what is going on, is horrified by the law, and works to keep him hidden as well. Why the Drover cares so much about Nullah becomes clear later in the film (no, it's not what you think...that would be too easy) and Jackman's experience with stage and musical work does him proud here. He can do earnest better than almost any actor alive when he needs to and his later use of the f-word (the only curse I can remember from the entire film) hits so hard, in just the right emotional moment, that it kills. Russell Crowe was originally cast as the Drover but backed out. If Crowe had done the film, and I have liked him in other things...the Napoleon-era British navy film that I can't remember the name of right now, it would not have worked. Crowe never loses that bit of edge and the Drover, at one point, really has to fully break down and become completely vulnerable. Jackman shines at that point.

Anyway...a warning, the movie is long 2 hours and 40something minutes, but I didn't realize that until I had left the theater. I saw it alone...I was out of town at a pediatrics meeting...and that's a good thing. I didn't have to hide from Holly the few times the movie hit me a bit too hard and do that cough-throat clearing thing we dudes do to cover up a stray tear.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 13, 2009 8:15:31 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2009 8:16:58 AM PST
Hey B.E. Nice review, but if I may...

"Never a wink to the crowd" etc... With all respect, maybe because you're American and don't hear the grotesquely caricatured accents (most Yanks think we sound Cockney!) you might jump to that conclusion, but you don't generally have to be an Aussie to see how cartoonish they are. Oh boy are they ever treated as 'quaint'. And my God, poor Nicole squealing like a schoolgirl for Baz AGAIN (remember even as her character is established only moments before, a woman of her English aristocratic bearing would never in a million years go on so childishly and broadly - ESPECIALLY in the presence of someone she has decided instantly is so crude)! Not to mention the complete mismatch of modern filmmaking style that butts heads with the 'classic' themes and narrative treatment...

And look again, the stolen generation is ham-fisted and insulting. They make such a big point of it and yet the white heroes still take it upon themselves to act FOR the Aboriginals when push comes to shove and Kidman's character acts essentially like the bigots they hate because she knows what's "best" for the child and that they should 'protect' him. It isn't even used to ironic effect by the drover! Also, it wasn't just Aboriginal kids fathered by white men at all. I went to school with a full-blood Aboriginal friend who was also taken because white missionaries knew "what was good for him" (and mind you, I went to school in the seventies and eighties so that tells you how long it went on). If you're going to get into all that you need to address the religious white arrogance in relation to the complications of Aboriginal domestic violence and so-on. There was plenty in "Australia" to be going on with without treating such a supposedly important subject as "romantic" light entertainment. I know that all sounds a bit heavy but hopefully you can understand my point, and the fact that you didn't get a sense of it beyong such a, uh, "stylised" understanding sys a bit. Like I say, no offence meant to you, just filling you in.

Oh and Crowe's fantastic movie was called "Master and Commander". Phenomenal movie, but yes Crowe got his just deserts on Australia. He had tried to pull a similar stunt on a film called Eucalyptus and the whole project collapsed. On Australia, essentially they called his bluff. He asked if he could come back and they said no thanks. Jackman was great. As a point of interest, one actor who really used the broadness of the accent and the clichéd expressions to his advantage was David Whenham (Faramir from LOTR), whose slimy villain was given extra menace by using these common ocker phrases and supposed pleasantries to mask his real nature. Interestingly it was a technique he used in an amazing Aussie film called The Boys. Harrowing domestic violence and menace based on characters involved in one of Australia's most shocking murders, the Anita Cobby killing. Usually I have a hard time taking Wenham seriously because he's so likeable, but my God, he's the worst kind of monster in that one - the one in your own house, or your own family.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE YET TO SEE IT THAT MIGHT READ THIS: Also, it's painfully obvious that Australia was constructed with everything coming to an end one way - with the death of the Drover. All the references to no names after death (and the fact it's told in flashback by an Aboriginal character)/him not having a real name/having just a mythic name, the themes of classic legendary figures and storytelling, the confusion in knowing if anyone was hurt at a crucial point, him coming and going with the seasons, being part of the land, the outback and it's story... Everything leads to this... and then they wussed out for no strong, epic, classic storytelling reason. Think of the film again with this ending in mind and tell me how much more mythic it would have been! Sure, the second half was better than the first, but the end made no sense. And don't forget those little gay (no offence, even my gay friends think it's shameless) moments like Jackman's bush shower that add nothing to the story. And I thought Tarantino was bad for indulging his foot fetish (although that bit with The Bride was arguably used to further the narrative)! My gay guy friends laughed, my girl friends laughed. I dunno, maybe for some reason you have to be non-American to get that one to...

Anyway, thanks again and I'm so glad you enjoyed it, but I felt a bit funny about you saying certain things when maybe you aren't in the best position to comment on them and shouldn't take this film as education on said issues.

With all respect,
Matt.

P.S. I've heard good things and like Gillian Anderson, so I enjoyed your recommendation of Bleak House. I might finally check it out, thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2009 9:45:02 PM PDT
M. Jensen says:
The argument that "hey I'm Austrailan so you American's can't comment on our racist past becuase you don't live here" is out of touch with reality. We got racism here, and everybody in the world knows it and comments on it. I can go into a theater and see "A Dry White Season" or "Australia" and then do a little more reasearch on my own and form an opinion. If these movies get people talking about race and provide some decent history that creates a constructive atmospherse that helps us all to move beyond the past then that is a good thing. No movies are perfect, but this is a hell of good movie with positive messages (unlike the Dark Knight -- I completely agree with the original post in that regard). And no offense meant to the real Australia at all -- I love the country and spent several weeks there a few years back. Peace!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2009 12:14:43 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 8, 2009 12:16:47 PM PST
I don't understand all the other English-speaking countries' people's passionate preference for tragic endings. I mean this in all wide-eyed sincerity, "insensitive" or not. (Last-minute setting in quotes, can't decide whether that looks apt to me or not.)

A toast to the happy ending of AUSTRALIA, without which I would have shrieked and thrown shoes at my TV screen this morning after watching it on HBO! And a toast to Hugh Jackman, and to every last view of him this movie had to offer. Besides which, I enjoyed the movie itself.

Another Yank

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 7, 2010 12:49:57 PM PST
Karris says:
I don't either! Seems to be an epidemic these days. I think tragedy has become the paradigm in its attempt to do away with Hollywood endings in the classic sense, and hence is now just as unrealistic as what it sought to replace. It also speaks poorly of the human race if they expect things to end badly in each and every case. Not much room for hope, and all things considered that's about all we have.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 7, 2010 12:53:05 PM PST
Karris says:
M. Jensen - good post. I fully agree. I also tire of those who think that if there is a white person in a leading role than the movie can't deal realistically against racism unless that person is a villain, and not a defender. History is full of passionate defenders who were not of the race being defended. There should be more movies made about those who fought for the rights of others, no matter what ethnic group they belong to. Instead of complaining about their absence, these people should write or make these films. And as you say, anything that triggers someone's curiosity about this is a good thing.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2010 10:04:17 AM PDT
I greatly enjoyed the movie Australia, but I have to admit I am not knowledgeable at all on the race issues down under. But I had to speak up in reply to M. Stanley's post. An excellent movie that deals with racism is Amazing Grace. There is a book by the same title by Eric Metaxas as well that goes into much more detail. It's about William Wilberforce, a member of England's parliament back in the late 1700's and his fight to outlaw the slave trade. Just another example of those heroes from our past who've been all but forgotten, unfortunately.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2010 12:11:46 PM PDT
Thanks for your thoughtful input!

Posted on Jun 22, 2010 1:49:38 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jun 22, 2010 2:25:57 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2015 6:49:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2015 6:50:08 PM PST
With all due respect, we Aussies have a word for you Matt. Wanker.
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