Sunday, November 30, 2008


Written by Stuart Beattie and Baz Luhrmann
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters and David Wenham

The Drover: Oh, crikey!

Australia, the land down under. A land grand in size and rich in scenery. A land where kangaroos jump spryly alongside cars and aboriginal children go on walkabout without warning. Yes, this is Australia or at the very least, this is the clichéd representation of the country as per Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA, a film that is part epic romance and part homage to the country he calls home. Luhrmann shot to fame in the early 90’s with his first feature, STRICTLY BALLROOM, a film that took place down under and for a tiny fraction of what AUSTRALIA cost, was a more genuine insight into the people who reside there. Nearly twenty years later, his magic seems to have turned into madness as I can think of no other justification for Luhrmann reducing his home and its history into stereotypical schlock ready to serve to unintentionally naïve American audiences.

AUSTRALIA takes place in 1939, just before the Japanese attacked the country during the Second World War. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman, whose performance is uneven but still engaging), is a British aristocrat who has traveled far from home to find her husband and bring him back. Her husband’s business in Australia got the best of him though and he has passed away. It is now up to this displaced diva to finish the job. She must put aside her dainty nature to rough it in the outback, herding cattle with a group of misfits, in order to take down corruption and monopolistic authorities running the cattle show. Throw in a steamy romance between Ashley and her main cattle handler (Hugh Jackman, easily earning his recent “Sexiest Man Alive” title), and you got yourself a movie. Well, you would have yourself a regular sized movie but this is Luhrmann’s opus, one which he seems conscious of the entire time. To fill the 2 hour and 45 minute run time, Luhrmann definitely throws in the romance but also adds racial issues, family drama, gender prejudice and a great war. It is boiling over with potential but missing the great deal of passion necessary to sustain itself.

After completing his Red Curtain Trilogy (including his first feature as well as WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE!), Luhrmann wanted to tackle historical accounts in his next films. The first was to be a biography of Alexander the Great but Oliver Stone beat him to that a few years back. Luhrmann then turned to his origins for inspiration instead and AUSTRALIA was born. The Red Curtain Trilogy was defined by style and theme. While Luhrmann hasn’t abandoned his dedication to love in AUSTRALIA, Luhrmann did set aside the signature schizophrenic style that made distinct lovers and haters of all who watched his works. Baz Luhrmann without everything that made him who he was is almost unrecognizable or unidentifiable even. You can almost feel him fighting with himself to tone down the extremities of the scenarios or slowing the speed of the story. The camera will move quickly all of a sudden but is reeled back in just as quickly. AUSTRALIA becomes a lesson in shame, one that I never expected from a man who so vehemently campaigned for truth and self in the past. By trying to be something he isn’t, Luhrmann only succeeded in losing his voice.

AUSTRALIA is a solid effort, sturdy on its feet but a slow and steady stride instead of the adventure it so clearly wants to be. It can be touching; it can be somewhat moving even; but it feels mostly as vague and meandering as the outback is vast. It is too theatrical and forced to be firmly historical and too unsure of itself to be genuinely effective. It is the most misguided mediocrity I’ve even seen go on for nearly three hours. I felt very little, learned even less; It was like being on an adventure where barely anything seemed to happen but you still appreciate the potential afforded by being there.. I just wish that the Baz I grew to know and love felt like he had come along for the ride because I feel like we didn’t spend any time together at all.


Salty Popcorn said...

Ouch - lol.
When looking back a lot of your comments do ring true - but I was totally taken by the love story and by Brandon Walters. I suppose when watching I was not studying the historical fact - already know most of it but was swept by the Oprah loving romance. If Gone with the Wind was remade now frame by frame or simply re-released would it also get panned? Who knows? Or would it receive rave reviews. I overheard some patrons in the cinema discussing how it had an "old film" feel of grandeur. I felt it had an old country and western feel to it. But in regards to a polarising feel (we use s instead of z in Oz) here is a link through to my totally different review.
Who knew a director could create so much difference of opinion but at least he has people talking about it.

Black Sheep said...

Funny that you should mention GONE WITH THE WIND. A film critic friend of mine, Kevin Laforest, loved this film. He mentioned in his review that it was no mistake to set the film in 1939, a year that saw GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ and STAGECOACH hit theatres. He then goes on to say that AUSTRALIA is practically a recreation of these three films smashed into one. It gives new insight into the film and it certainly helps to read the film with a nostalgic eye.

Salty Popcorn said...

Awesome! Good o know it got one good review in the US. LOL. Reports from here are claiming it is being murdered in the US.
I absolutely LOVED the use of The Wizard of Oz in the film and eerily Baz's next project is going to be WICKED, the story of how the Wicked Witch of the West became Wicked. He will be recreating the muscial version though currently taking theatres world wide by storm. I hope I am not overlinking my welcome but here is the link to my story on what Baz is doing next.
I have never seen Stagecoach but will check it out to see if it rings true. I did find Baz mashed together Gone with the Wind and Titanic but took it very far from icebergs. I could just see if the other ending Baz had filmed where Hugh had died was used - Nicole would be on her hands and knees "Drover, come back, Drover" LOL

Black Sheep said...

Geez, the idea of watching Kidman on her knees weeping for Jackman makes me want to puke. People are pretty much 50/50 on the movie here. And as far as WICKED goes, I've had the chance to see it on Broadway. Awesome show and perfect for Baz! Wait, wait ... let me get on my knees for this ... Baz! Come back, Baz! Come back!

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie. To me it was a masterpiece and visual delight. People forget that this is a story set in 1939, the actors are playing roles and it is not a documentary. I thank God for the cinema genius of Baz Lurhman and Gillian Martin. I can see how they have paid tribute to old classics such as Gone with Wind,The Wizard of Oz and Stagecoach. It is hammed up at the start of the movie and this is intentional. It says welcome to Australia in 1939, The land of bar room brawls, drunkardness and kangaroos. No one complained at how hammed up Crocodile Dundee was or how in Harry Potter movies wizards fly around. Remember this is a fictitious story with some elements of truth which touches on the stolen generation, the Darwin bombing, cattle rustling and the dreamtime.
I thought that David Gulpilil (King George) was majestic in this movie and the backdrops he was set in or against were beautiful. He is like a Dreamtime Warrior watching over his "my land" "our land" with the alertness of a kangaroo and eyesight of a wedge tail eagle, carrying his spear like a shepherd of his flock (the people of this land).
As for Nicole Kidman,she is forever a cut down tall poppy in this country. I think she played her role brilliantly and is a brilliant actress. An English aristocrat soon to be knocked down a peg or two by the harshness of the times. She was meant to be awkward and unsure when singing "somewhere over the rainbow" it was something she had only heard about and as she said in the movie she was not good with children. This proved to be wrong as she was good with Nullah and had a great compassion for the aboriginal people as I believe many a white women would have. Who of us white women would not want to take on the role of mothering an aboriginal child with their beautiful faces, radiant smiles and innocence. I don't know the true story of the stolen generation, were they neglected children of alcoholic parents who the Australian government sought to give a better opportunity to, were they wrongly bundled in to one category and hunted like slaves, I don't know. I do know that either way it would have been heartwrenching for their loving mothers and grandmothers and traumatic for the children. The heartwrench that Nicole portrayed at the moment of loosing Nullah would be the same as that of any aboriginal mother at the time. In saying this many a white person has come from a background fueled with alcohol and neglect.
We as white people may have made unintentional mistakes. I am sorry for the stolen generations, I am sorry that unfortunately there are ignorant and racist people in the world but grateful that we are not all like this. I am sorry that we send innocent men off to war. I am sorry that we as a democracy have no say in what our Governments of the day choose to do at any given time. I am grateful that we now as a nation have a compassionate leader who is not afraid to say sorry and listens to the heart of the nation.
I believe people who were moved on sorry day 2008 will love this movie and those that did not understand sorry day will just not like nor get this movie as it is beneath them to do so.
Cheers, the bleeding heart.

Salty Popcorn said...

LOL Black Sheep - I missed your last comment. Very cool. The hatred for this film from certa people on my blog is quite scary. It is only a film afterall. People hav way too much time on their hands.

Anonymous - I hope you do not mind but I would like to copy your entire comment to my blog to shove the hatred they have straight up their $#@es - LOL. If you do not like the idea of me doing this please let me know and I will delete it. Thanks