AUSTRALIA is an epic and romantic action adventure, set in that country on the explosive brink of World War II. In it, an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) travels to the faraway continent, where she meets a rough-hewn local (Hugh Jackman) and reluctantly agrees to join forces with him to save the land she inherited. Together, they embark upon a transforming journey across hundreds of miles of the world's most beautiful yet unforgiving terrain, only to still face the bombing of the city of Darwin by the Japanese forces that attacked Pearl Harbor. With his new film, Baz Luhrmann is painting on a vast canvas, creating a cinematic experience that brings together romance, drama, adventure and spectacle.
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)