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AUSTRALIA review

aust-2Baz Lurhmann’s AUSTRALIA is an old fashioned epic; one that harkens back to the days of Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. Part western, part war film, part love story, and one big time risk, this is a film I really enjoyed. One has to admire the director’s tenacity making this ‘from the heart’ story. This type of film is not easy to pull off yet, despite its flaws, Australia is well worth seeing… as long as your attention span is more than ten minutes.

The story begins at the brink of World War 2 where we are introduced to Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), a prime and uptight English aristocrat, who travels to the outback of northern Australia in order to deal with her  husband’s supposed infidelity. Once there, she discovers he has died under suspicious circumstances and his ranch, Far Away Downs, is under siege by a rival cattle company. In a bind, she enlists the help of a rugged cattleman, known simply as the Drover (Hugh Jackman) to help keep the ranch going.

The story also quickly establishes one of its main and most powerful themes, the mistreatment of Aborigines. This is told mostly through the eyes of an adorable little boy, a half-caste kid named Nullah (played with a calm charisma by newcomer Brandon Walters). He’s been living on the ranch in fear of being taken away and sent to a government institution; the fate of many now known as ‘the stolen generation’. He’s been fathered by the film’s nasty, somewhat over the top, villain (David Wenham) who will stop at nothing to acquire wealth.

While Jackman and Kidman’s chemistry isn’t the best (probably the film’s biggest weakness) the banter between the two is fun to watch. The first half of the story is highlighted by an effects-laden cattle drive where Lady Ashley and the Drover try and move 1500 cattle to Darwin so they can be sold. It’s a glorious throwback sequence that we don’t see much in movies anymore. The film’s second half deals with the Japanese bombing of Darwin, and Lady Ashley’s unshakable bond with Nullah which becomes the heart of the story.

In what I consider a ballsy move, director Lurmann’s heavily interjects “The Wizard of Oz” into the story, with Kidman singing “Over the Rainbow” along with the tune being played throughout the latter half of the story. While some might find this interjection hokey, I loved it and its one of my favorite things about the movie. It gives the proceedings a somewhat surreal effect and made me realize that Lurhmann has the guts to be different in a very good way. While Australia is all over the map, and the film’s tone is decidedly different from its first half to the second, I was captivated by the experience. Kidman might be an acquired taste for some, but I’m a big fan. I could enjoy watching her for two and half hours any day of the week. One of the joys of long epic films is that characters change and this is the case with Kidman’s Lady Ashley becoming a very different person by the end of the story. I liked that aspect a lot. I give Australia 4 out of 5 zombies. See it!

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December 3, 2008 - Posted by | Reviews |

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