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December 2008
AUSTRALIA

by Wilson Morales

AUSTRALIA

Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenwriters: Baz Luhrmann, Ronald Harwood, Stuart Beattie, Richard Flanagan
Cinematographer: Mandy Walker
Composer: David Hirschfelder
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Brandon Walters, David Gulpilil, Jack Thompson, and David Ngoombujarra

   








When one waits as long as Baz Luhrmann has to make a film, you tend to think that he's creating a masterpiece. After all, it's been seven long years since he directed his last film, 'Moulin Rouge!'.

With his current muse (Nicole Kidman) back in his latest film, 'Australia', he was hoping to regain the same respect and applause he had received before, but unfortunately, his time away from the game hasn't sharpened his skills. 'Australia' is a big, overlong drama that needed more substance than glossy makeup and hokey acting.

Fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are certainly attractive and appealing enough to bring in an audience to this nearly three hour film, but too many cartoonish scenes saddles what could have a great epic and romantic film. The one saving grace in the film is newcomer Brandon Walters. The kid innocently shines throughout the film.

Starting out from England, aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) sets out to Australia to find her husband, whom she assumes is having an affair, but then finds out he was murdered. With a huge family ranch named Faraway Downs untended, she looks to hire the best man to tend to the cattle to keep business afloat. When local businessman King Carney (Bryan Brown), who practices run the entire area, threatens to tear down her business with the help of his future son-in-law Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), who was fired by Ashley for running unfair 'labor' practices, ranch hand Drover (Jackman) comes to the rescue.

As Drover now leads the charge, the heaviest task is moving a large amount of cattle across the Australia's brutal landscape, which gains Sarah respect amongst the locals. Meanwhile, an Aboriginal child named Nullah (Walters), who lost his mother while trying to save him from the authorities because he's of mixed race, needs to be taken care of and while reluctant to do so at first, Sarah's latent maternal instincts kick in. As Nullah yearns for stability, he also must, according to his culture, go 'walkabout' with his grandfather, which doesn't suit Sarah well. When the war nears Darwin, Australia after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all lives are at stake as a deadly fate awaits them.

Initially cartoonish at the beginning with weak introductions and slapstick humor, but given enough time, especially with this one, Luhrmann slowly worked his magic to what he knows best. What's worked for most of his films is the style of garish colors he employs around the film. Everything looks gorgeous, but somewhere in the middle, he lost direction of the film. One minute it's romantic, then it's about saving the kid, and finally politics come into play. Never mind the endless use of 'Over The Rainbow' sung and played in the film.

It is certainly adventurous, but bloated and over-the-top. Kidman is actually better here than in her last few performances ('The Golden Compass', 'Margot at the Wedding', 'The Invasion), but Jackman is mere eye candy. Glad to see most of Australia's finest actors (Brown, Wenham, David Gulpilil, Jack Thompson, and David Ngoombujarra) working in the same film. Is it boring? No. Is it worth seeing? Probably, but it depends if you have time.