I have no doubt that “Australia” director Baz Luhrmann is a patriot of his native land, so much so that he titled his movie after it and cast fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman as the leads.
As a fan of Australian cinema (must sees are “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” and “Muriel’s Wedding”), I was hoping that this Aussie-heavy production would be the pinnacle of Australian filmmaking. Surprisingly (and unfortunately for us), Luhrmann chose to show his patriotism using tired cliches from classic American films. Coming from the director of the groundbreaking “Moulin Rouge,” I was expecting something far more original.
With such an ambitious title, I was expecting “Australia” to tell the larger story of a continent with a fascinating history, geography and culture. I was disappointed. The film covers just a few years during Word War II and visits only a small region of northern Australia.
The movie begins as a campy, old-fashioned American Western, with the prissy Lady Sarah Ashley (a squealing Kidman) arriving at a dusty, failing cattle ranch run by her recently-murdered husband. She soon joins forces with an oddball group of farmhands and the loner Drover (Jackman) to help the ranch survive against the evil, cattle rancher Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), a sneering villain out of 1950s central casting.
The film also contains a full-scale World War II movie detailing the Japanese attack on Darwin and, of course, a grand-scale love story, complete with gratuitous torso shots of Jackman (which elicited audible gasps from the women in the theater). With so many movies packed into its 2 hours and 45 minutes, “Australia” feels like an especially long, long movie.
The secondary storyline of Nullah, a mixed-race aboriginal child finding his place in the world (a touching performance by newcomer Brandon Walters), delivered the film’s only real magical moments. But they left me wishing Luhrmann had scrapped his other well-traveled story paths and focused on this fresher premise instead.
Clearly, no expense was spared on this lavish production and the breathtaking visuals of Australia’s vast landscapes are best appreciated on the big screen. But at its core, “Australia” is not much more than an Australian-tinged tribute to classic American film genres that have long since been reinvented.
- Rated PG-13
- Grade: B
- Now playing