The baz age – Australia review

Australia – Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Starring Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham and Jack Thompson. Rated M for violence and coarse language. 165 mins.

When you give a film an all-encompassing title like Australia, you’ve got to deliver the goods. Baz Luhrmann set that task for himself when he scribbled it atop the first page of his screenplay (provided he’s one of those ‘title-first’ writers; I’ve always been ‘title-last). This wasn’t just going to be a film about drovers, or the stolen generation, or romance in the outback. This film is about AUSTRALIA, IN BIG, BOLDED, STYLISED LETTERING. So, as a proud Australian, I was apprehensive of a film that would apparently surmise my country’s entire identity in only 165 minutes (a blink when you think about it). What a pleasant surprise to discover that the film has earned its sweeping title.

The story of Australia is, quite literally, the story of Australia. It begins at the outbreak of World War 2, with Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) heading to the Northern Territory to sell her husband’s flailing cattle station Faraway Downs. Lady Ashley doesn’t take too kindly to the outback at first, or to her assigned companion, The Drover (Jackman). However, conventional wisdom lets us know it won’t be long before the rugged outdoorsman beds the uptight Brit. After all, he’s Australian! Lady Ashley eventually comes to love Faraway Downs, as well as its live-in staff. This includes our young narrator Nullah (Walters), who may only be four-feet tall, but is easily the standout of the film. It’s an exceptionally nuanced performance for a 12 year old. In one scene, he faces off against a herd of stampeding cattle on the edge of a cliff. If I described it in greater detail, you would laugh it off. Trust me, he makes it work.

The first hour of the film is spectacular. It deftly balances tragic drama with zany comedy, a trait Luhrmann has at this point refined and made signature. The storyline focuses on a last-ditch cattle drive to save The Downs. The station has been losing the cattle war (there was a cattle war?) to King Carney (Bryan Brown) and his evil underling Fletcher (David Wenham, reprising his ‘sniveling villain’ shitck from The Proposition). Sadly, the second half of the film doesn’t quite live up to what came before. The film clumsily patches the conclusion of the first storyline to the big finale – the bombing of Darwin. Part of me thinks the film would have been better if it had finished at the end of part one. However, there are so many great moments from that final half hour. The Japanese attack and its aftermath is an incredible sequence, and I wouldn’t dare suggest cutting a single scene.

The film does suffer from some clichéd representation of Aussies (‘Crikey’ is often used as a verb, a noun and an adjective). However, the performances do exceed their one-note expectations. None more so than Jackman, who provides the most devastating scene of the whole film, in which he demands his Aboriginal brother be allowed into a pub. Did Wolverine make me shed a tear? No, but he came damn close, and that’s much more than I ever expected from any Hugh Jackman performance. Kidman is also (surprisingly) at the top of her game, balancing her flustered screwball-heroine with real emotion.

Australia looks spectacular. It has some truly amazing shots of the outback, displaying both its tremendous beauty and overwhelmingly cruelty. Some sequences are obviously shot on a soundstage (including a campsite that looks as if it was lifted straight from Three Amigos), but for the most part, the film achieves epic realism. It also deftly handles Aboriginal lore and tradition, with David Gulpilil providing an enigmatic performance as the wise King George.

I did not think I would end up writing a positive review for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. I was certain the film would be unpleasant, glaringly loud and garishly flamboyant. Baz’s trademark extreme close-up’s are still here, but for the most part he has calmed himself down. He knows this film is a big deal, and he has adjusted his style accordingly. It is still his film, or at least it was. Now it’s our film. If a movie can have the guts to call itself AUSTRALIA and not be accused of tarnishing its namesake’s reputation, it should be considered an achievement. It’s not the greatest film we’ve ever produced, but if it becomes the most notable Aussie film internationally, I wouldn’t mind.

4/5

Check out the trailer here.

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7 thoughts on “The baz age – Australia review

  1. “Shut your damper hole” A typical sort of comment from someone who is not game to leave their name, but call themselves “Anonymous”! A better name might be “Gutless”Well, I and all my family saw “Australia” last weekend and we all thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it. It was great!

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  2. I haven’t seen it yet but I do have intentions of watching it. I have heard mixed reviews, but I want to judge for myself. The trailer looks great, both Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman seem perfect for the role. Somehow I don’t think I’m not going to be disappointed. Watch this space …..I’ll be back………..

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  3. What a great film. Finally we have got away from the dark art house rubbish. I didn’t care if the stockmen looked a bit like American coyboys or any other minor faults. This is great entertainment. My only criticism was the M rating which stopped Kids from enjoying it as well.

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  4. It is such a weird mix of styles. Luhrmann has invented a new genre of Romantic Comedic Social-Realism Western War movie and no part of the movie works. The studio stuff is woeful – it felt like Mel Brooks was about to burst into the movie or Audie Murphy if Mel couldn’t make it. I really wanted to like it and believed I would but Nicole dressed as something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and slo-mo shots of Hugh washing together with Jack Thompson being a cross between something from Barry McKenzie and a Carry On movie… Didn’t do it for me.

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  5. Well Baz has us all talking hasn’t he?? Be it annoying as it is, the over promotion nearly killed it!! I don’t think it was nessesary, I bet the budget was totally blown. I would like to to see the film out of obligation to support the local film industry. I’m fortunate enough to know many people whom worked on this project and I would be delighted to see more “Australian film makers” like BAZ and take the risk. I look forward to seeing it with reasonable expectations!!!

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  6. definitely agree with you on that one – the whole marketing frenzy/media circus surrounding Australia had me completely turned off. Which is kind of sad, because it will turn away a lot of people. I know that if I didn’t have to review it, I probably would have stayed away. And it turned out to be really good. So, there you go.

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