Review: ‘Australia’

Baz Luhrmann’s first film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge! has all the trappings of a sure-fire hit, with its attractive leads, money shots of rugged landscapes and immaculately designed sets and costumes.  But something in Australia is missing, but after sitting in the theater for nearly three hours, I don’t care what.

What’s it about? I’m not 100% sure, because for the first half of the movie I couldn’t understand what all these Aussies were saying.  (Like the superb Irish film Once, this one needs subtitles even though it’s in English.)  But this is what I gather: Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is a rich British prude who comes to Faraway Downs, her husband’s money pit of of a ranch in the Australian Outback, to sell the property and bring her husband home.  Upon arrival she discovers her husband has been murdered, supposedly by an Aboriginal mystic named King George (David Gulpill).  It turns out that the ranch could actually turn a profit, should Sarah  be able to get her 1500 head of cattle to Darwin.

With the help of the rough and tumble Drover (Hugh Jackman, in full romance novel cover mode), Sarah and her hired help (including Nullah (Brandon Walters), the 10-year old half-white/half-aboriginal grandson of King George) drive the cattle across the unforgiving Outback.

Just when you think the movie’s over, however, there is an enitrely different story that drags on for the last hour: Japan bombs Darwin, and Sarah, Drover and Nullah are separated and–SPOILER ALERT–reunited in the end.

What’s good about it? Walters gives a fine performance, and there’s some beautiful cinematography.

What’s bad about it? Well, there’s not a lot that is bad per se (barring the fact that the movie is far too overlong), it’s just that there really isn’t anything great about it.  Australia reportedly cost $130 to make; when a movie costs that much, it should knock my socks off.  I am sad to report that my socks stayed on my feet the whole time.

The film feels like a glossed-up remake of 1985’s Out of Africa (one of my favorite films), but lacks any real dramatic weight.  Australia is cinematic cotton candy; Out of Africa is meat and potatoes.

Perfect for: Swoony Hugh Jackman fans.

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