Sunday, December 6, 2009

Australia. C+

The fact that 'Australia' ended up not being a very good movie probably isn't as disappointing to us as it it is to its director, Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann wanted something big after not making a movie since 2001's 'Moulin Rouge!' His ambition is clearly present, as 'Australia' is a grand, beautiful epic-visually. But as far as character and story goes, the movie falls dreadfully short. This movie has three unofficial parts to it: the introduction to the key characters, Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and Drover (Hugh Jackman) is the first part, and that lasts about forty-five minutes. The second part is their cattle drive across the plains of Australia. Sarah owns the cattle (from her deceased husband) and needs to get them to a town called Darwin to escape the evil Fletcher, played with unrealistic villainy by David Wenham. Drover is there to assist, though he seems perhaps a bit more interested in Sarah than he does driving the cattle. Along for the ride is the narrator of the film, a young aboriginal boy named Nullah. At the end of the second part the movie has been going for nearly two hours. I was ready to leave, but Luhrmann still had part three to tell: the romantic war sequence. Here the movie, already pretty silly, gets even more outlandish and unbelievable. And it doesn't help that Jackman's and Kidman's characters seemed flat and pretty dull. We don't really find out much about either of them because most of their conversing is either played for comedy or gazing dreamily at each other and taking about love or the conflicts of war that lay before them. They rarely talk about themselves and what they really feel. Still, there are some things to like about the movie. Luhrmann and his DP Mandy Walker make great use of the Australian locations and there's a strange touch of Aboriginal culture that thankfully adds some originality to the picture. As I said, the mixed reception of 'Australia' probably came as a great letdown for Luhrmann. He clearly worked hard on the movie. But in the end it didn't feel like the grand old-fashioned 'Gone With the Wind' like epic it aspired to be. One more thing I'd like to note is the way Luhrmann uses 'The Wizard of Oz' as a way to, I don't know, add to the sort of mysticism of the Aboriginals. It starts with Sarah telling the story to Nullah. Now that's fine, but then it goes on. Nullah learns the song 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and it is played several times. He even sees the movie at one point. And then to top it off, at the end Sarah says to Drover: 'Let's go home.' Drover replies 'There's no place like it.' Now that is going too far.

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