Friday, February 20, 2009

Australia (2008)

Movie quotes:
Drover (Hugh Jackman): We're not really used to -
Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman): A woman? I suppose you think I should be back in Darwin, at the church fete or a lady's whatever you call it. Well I will have you know, I am as capable as any man.
Drover: Guests. We're not used to guests is what I was about to say but now that you mention it I happen to quite like the women of the outback.

At a glance:
Baz Luhrmann’s epic portrayal of outback Australia during World War II is a combination western, romance, and war movie, with indigenous mysticism, too, and Luhrmann fans – and fans of pure spectacle and entertainment – will love it

Our review:
There are certain ambitious directors who bring and stamp their own mood, agenda, and personality onto every film they make. Baz Luhrmann is one of those directors. If you don’t relate to his point of view, watching one of his films could be a long, confusing slog (hence the mixed reviews for this film). If you do relate to his personality and are like-minded in the way you view the world, then he can pretty much throw any scene and/or visual imagery at you, and you will understand what he is trying to do.

I connect with Baz Luhrmann. Consequentially, I loved Australia.

The story: during World War II, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels from England to her Australian outback cattle property to find out why her husband has not returned. She believes he is there to have dalliances, but he was actually trying to run cattle and compete with cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown), the man who has a regional beef monopoly. Her cattle have been stolen by Carney’s evil employee, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham). Thoroughly out of her element, Lady Sarah must deal with the outback hardships while getting a crash course in aboriginal culture. For help, she turns to an honest, free spirited larrikin called The Drover (Hugh Jackman).

Australia crams almost everything into its long running time of 165 minutes. It’s a western war romance, with a dose of indigenous spirituality. It tries to be as big a film as Australia the country, and, for the most part, it succeeds. For all its length and spectacle, its main point of view is refreshingly simple: Australia can be a beautiful place if we treat people and the land with respect and tolerance. Reviews have been mixed, but I believe that as time goes on, the opinion of this film will slowly improve.

Australia is populated with a who’s who of Australian actors: Barry Otto, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, David Gulpilil, Ben Mendelsohn, and striking newcomer Brandon Walters as Nullah. In the same way, it covers a large and important period in Australian history, taking dead-serious issues and presenting them in a way that makes them entertaining.

Baz Luhrmann is brave as always, but he was misguided if he believed that he could make a wildly successful epic film that at the same time personalized and documented in lyrical imagery the atrocities of white Australians to indigenous people. While the majority of present-day white Australians acknowledge and are sorry that these atrocities did happen, many of them would still be squirming uncomfortably when presented with such blatant dramatization of representative tragic incidents.

Whether Luhrmann knew this problem or not, one thing is certain, for he has proven this over and over; he must always make the film that he must make, with no compromises. His films may be flawed, but they are always ambitious, flamboyant, original, passionate, and aware of their own self as film.

Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"This is a movie for those who say they don't make 'em like they used to."
-Robert Roten (Laramie Movie Scope)

"Australia is an epic love story, and a quite extraordinary piece of kitsch. Everything about the film is wildly over the top."
-James Christopher (Times [UK])

"Though the plot is similar to a Barbara Stanwyck '50s Western by way of Out of Africa, Luhrmann goes one further, infusing the film with a mystical quality that seems wholly authentic to this aboriginal land."
-Kimberly Gadette (Indie Movies Online)

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