On the website Rotten Tomatoes, Australia currently has a rotten tomato. The critics think the movie outweighs the story. Which, in part, is true. Baz Luhrmann is the king of visual storytelling. All of his movies, especially Moulin Rogue!, are all about being beautiful. Australia is no exception. Gorgeous landscapes, impeccable costumes, amazing lighting, and Hugh Jackman all make for quite the beautiful movie. But alas, clocking in at nearly three hours, there wasn't enough story to support all that beauty. Fortunately, the story that is there is a good one that made me very happy I saw the movie.
Spanning from 1938 up to the Darwin bombings in 1941, Australia is set in northern Australia. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), an extremely proper Englishwoman, comes to the country to force her husband to sell his failing cattle ranch. What she doesn't know is that her husband was trying to keep the leading cattle man King Carney (Bryan Brown) from monopolizing the beef business. In order to stop Carney and his wicked right-hand man Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), Lady Ashley hires Drover (Hugh Jackman) to help her drive 2,000 head of cattle over an unforgiving landscape. During this process Sarah falls for Drover and becomes very attached to a little half-Aborigine, half-white boy named Nullah (newcomer Brandon Walters).
Before I get into the good of the movie, let's discuss the bad. Australia is really two movies. One is about a little boy going on an adventure witnessing a woman and a man falling in love. The other is about what war and different cultures can do to people. The problem is the transition from one story to the next. After the cattle drive, I felt the movie was basically over. All I needed was a solid epilogue--they lived happily ever after in the gorgeous landscapes of Australia--and I would've been satisfied. But no, the story keeps going, and the epilogue turns into another act...and another.
After awhile, I got comfortable with the new story, but the transition period is a little wonky and might cause most film goers to take a glance at the time. Let me tell you, suffer through it because the second story is quite moving.
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are perfectly cast. This movie is very old Hollywood with its epic scope and stylized scenes. Everything is amped up--especially the beauty--and to cast two beautiful people just makes it work even better. (I personally don't think Kidman is all that beautiful, but she does have a very statuesque look that screams Hollywood.) They both also pull off melodrama without making it look, well, melodramatic.
Kidman and Jackman aside, the person who steals the show is young Brandon Walters. This boy is phenomenal! He is the heart of this story, and his performance is absolutely flawless. His eyes tell a million stories, and his beautiful singing/chanting is intoxicating. I'm happy Luhrmann chose to tell the story from his point of view, or I wouldn't have been sold on the simplicity of it all. From a child's perspective, everything is grander and simpler.
For those who are wondering if classic Luhrmann is present, the answer is...sort of. His addiction to contemporary music and funky camera moves are still there, but they're sparingly used. There are more sweeping shots and Aboriginal tunes. Australia is very light and then deathly serious, much like the Red Curtain Trilogy. It is, though, a different step for Luhrmann.
Part western, part war film, and all romance, Australia is a love letter to the country, its indigenous people, and its history. Two movies or one, simple story or not, Australia is a spectacular thing to watch. It may not be a thinking-man's film, but it is a damn good movie.