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A romantic action-adventure epic set in Australia prior to World War II that centers on an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a large ranch. When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn cattle drover (Hugh Jackman) to protect her ranch. Together they experience four life-altering years, a love affair and the bombing of Darwin during World War II.
Watching the early reels of Australia, there's certainly no doubt who's in charge: this could only be a film by Baz Luhrmann, that wacky purveyor of all things over-the-top. In this old-fashioned, 165-minute hymn to his native continent, Luhrmann travels back to the late 1930s/early '40s, for a scenario that would not have been out of place at MGM in that era. Straightlaced Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) journeys Down Under and is put under the protection of--crikey--a rugged cattle driver known only as the Drover (Hugh Jackman). When the two are forced to team up (along with a motley crew of misfits) to take a herd of cattle through the hostile landscape, their way is challenged by the dastardly plans of the local beef baron (Bryan Brown) and his elaborately evil lieutenant (David Wenham). At some point you realize that this film's main commodity is not cattle, but corn: Luhrmann piles on the melodrama and the old-school climaxes with his usual frantic glee. Employing "When You Wish Upon a Star" and the Japanese air force to make his case is not beyond Luhrmann, and he reaches big here. Those with a taste for un-ironic silliness might just go for this stuff, but even fans of the Baz will have their patience tested by the broad comedy and the absence of discernable chemistry between Kidman and Jackman. Australia does manage to skewer the culture's prejudices against the Aboriginal people, but in this context such a victory comes across as rather tinny. --Robert Horton
Stills from Australia (Click for larger image)
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Naturally, the Australian aborigines are completely different from the black southern American slaves (who probably really ran the plantations). Nullah, the winsome lad from whose viewpoint the tale is mostly told, is the character that really makes the story work. If anyone gives a performance worthy of an Oscar in this film, it's this promising young actor, Brandon Walters, whom I dearly hope to see more of!
Otherwise, yes, if you are a Hugh Jackman fan, you will find the movie worth seeing for his competent portrayal of the gorgeously rugged, diamond-in-the-rough Drover. Will mention that a friend of mine thought that the portion when the Drover appeared at the ball resplendent in his tuxedo was "Disneyesque," and, yes, my friend's viewpoint is valid. Perhaps Baz Luhrmann thought to show that the "diamond-in-the-rough" could successfully take on polish.
Since this is a review rather than a social commentary, I won't get trapped into going on at length about the disgraceful way Australian aborigines were treated. Being American, that would be like the pot calling the kettle black (pun - if anyone sees it - is intentional). As someone who's bi-racial (possibility tri-racial), I can say that it's important to be aware that damage has been done and then get on with it - "it" being working at being fair, starting with oneself.
In any event, see and enjoy Australia. No, it may not be "realistic," but one goes to movies to escape, not to be further confronted with grim reality. We get enough of that in our dreary, day-to-day lives!