Offering more in terms of spectacle than substance, Australia is another overblown costume drama directed by Baz Luhrmann. The pretentious epic might have worked better as a musical, as it reunites Baz with fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman who landed her first Oscar nomination under his tutelage in the equally-escapist Moulin Rouge.
Although this saga of Shakespearean proportions is set in Australia, Kidman plays a Brit, Lady Sarah Ashley, an aristocrat who learns upon her arrival Down Under in 1939 that she has just inherited 1500 head of cattle from her recently-departed hubby. The comely actress’ co-star, here, is also a countryman, Hugh Jackman, who portrays Drover, the rough-hewn rancher (Hugh Jackman) she reluctantly hires to helps her herd to market across hundreds of miles of unforgiving terrain.
Along the way, their grudging relationship gradually blossoms into love against a spectacular canvas offered by the big sky backdrop afforded by an assortment of Outback locales. Meanwhile, the specter of World War II looms ominous on the horizon, and it’s just a matter of time before the Japanese attack.
Besides the love story at the center of the tale, the plot is complicated by the presence of a nefarious rustler (Bryan Brown) who has designs on Lady Ashley’s cattle. Plus, there’s a sidebar involving the narrator, a half-white/half-aborigine boy named Nullah (Walter) who endears himself with Sarah who becomes very protective when the authorities suggest must be relocated to a n institution designed to “breed the black out of him.”
So, as you can see, the film is filled with a cornucopia of Biblical themes to explore, ranging from love and loss to betrayal and redemption. Unfortunately, between its predictably and the absence of chemistry between Kidman and Jackman, Australia amounts to little more than an amusing if just as readily-forgettable diversion.