Australia – film review

Posted on: 11/02/2009

Australia  Director: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Brandon Walters as Nullah; Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley; Hugh Jackman as The Drover

Time: A gruelling 165mins

Rating: **

Reviewed by Jenny Rose 

After reading many reviews of Australia that described it as an epically tedious and overwhelming picture obviously devoted to the country itself, I walked into the cinema with fairly low expectations. However I was pleasantly surprised; for all its faults that I had been aware of before I saw it, Australia turned out to be unexpectedly entertaining and at times powerful and successful in portraying the messages that it intended to.  

In short, it is the story of a stuffy English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley, (Nicole Kidman) who takes charge of an Australian cattle farm with the help of the wild Drover (Hugh Jackman) and the inhabitants of the small ranch previously managed by her murdered husband, including a half-caste child, Nullah who the film is narrated by. And that’s only the first half. After they succeed droving and selling the cattle to the army, Northern Australia is bombed by the Japanese. This is where the mismatched family who had become separated are reunited.  

Be that as it may, this film is not for everyone. For starters it could be considered excessively long, at 165 minutes you almost expect there to be an interval and at the end there was a stampede for the toilets, not unlike those of the cattle featured. It is almost as if two separate films were stuck together, welded by a necessary but dull lull about halfway through. Ironically, Australia combines two major themes typically allied with American theatre- a Western and a war movie, and is eerily reminiscent of many famous classics, most noticeably Gone With the Wind due to its similarly extensive length and parallels with its main characters, Scarlett and Rhett. The Wizard of Oz theme tune Somewhere Over the Rainbow that is repeated in all the most heart-wrenching scenes emphasizes the unrelentingly stereotypical nature of the film that is also associated with American films.   

I can’t deny the critics- even without Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Australia was exhaustingly cliché; but in a way it was the success of the film- everyone likes an old-fashioned goodies vs. badies. The film could be considered too sweet, but it needs it to get over the tragic deaths of characters who drop of from the start, and the desperately sad scene where The Drover thinks Lady Sarah Ashley is dead, and forces Ivan the barman to serve his Aboriginal best friend a drink with tears rolling down his face (and mine). But however sick I was of the many close up facial shots of the characters, they captured the emotion, of which the entire film was hinged on- creating and evoking a powerful sentiment in the audience.  

The quality of the acting varied; from Brandon Walter’s (as Nullah) astoundingly honest and natural performance to Nicole Kidman’s at times restrained emotional scale. However as a whole no one let the team down.

The strikingly unrealistic special effects were conspicuously apparent when Nullah stands on the edge of a gaping precipice and sings to a herd of 2,000 charging cattle until they stop, where the entire herd seem to go from a full-on sprint to a standstill within two seconds. The bombing of Darwin was equally odd-looking, but both scenes added to the whimsical tone induced by the conventional plot and characters.  

I have to ask- what did the critics expect when they knew Baz Luhrmann was directing it? You only have to watch his other films, the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge to prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster, unusual style of filming and syrupy interpretation. 

Overall, I was impressed by the film in that it managed to deal with a lot of issues well, like the romance, society as it was in 1930’s Australia, death and grief and Aboriginals lifestyle, not forgetting the stolen generation through the lives and struggles of but a few characters. Regardless, I couldn’t shake the feeling of shallowness, in the characters demeanours and in hindsight the emotion, partly because of their formulaic temperament.

The impressions it makes don’t last and it was so long that it isn’t tremendously memorable because there’s so much to consider. Australia stands on a wobbly foundation of novelty of which certainly won’t stand the test of time, but none the less a good film worth the watch, if you’ve got enough time.  


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