Baz Luhrmann is a director I've long had a beef with. His films are always shot like music videos and are usually as substantial. He relies on trite, fantastical yin and yang love stories which never do anything but look pretty. Australia is clearly his bid to receive awards attention, but I think it is also his attempt to convince us that he has matured as a film-maker. How does he do, well there are some steps forward here, but I feel the same problems that pollute the other films are still here. Just quietly hiding behind the 100 million plus budget.
The story sees British Aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) go to Australia to sell her husband's cattle ranch, and she is escorted to her destination by a man simply known as the Drover . She then goes on an adventure that encompasses racial discrimination, mostly through the eyes of local Aborigine boy Nullah ( Brandon Jackson), herding Cattle across the outback and world war 2. The positives first. The film hs some fanatastic visuals to it, through a combination of Australia itself and what appeared to be CGI backdrops. This is a movie it is a real pleasure to see. It is clearly a throwback to epic romances of old, and to their credit the two leads Kidman and Jackman do their best in roles that could have been irritating and two-dimensional. Jackman particularly impacts here, and is a clearly charismatic leading man who many people under-rate simply because he is Wolverine. Kidman is refreshingly animated here, at times too much so, but it is nice to see her break free of the ice queen shackles that have hung over her last few performances. Jackson has a lot of screen -time, but his character struck me as a little insipid and whilst he has received some raves for his perforance. It did little for me. And his occassional voice-over grates to the extreme. Few other cast members make an impact, dipping in and out of the story. David Wenham's bad guy Neil Fletcher is painfully skimped on and is essentially written as a artoon villain. Wenham lends him some subtelty and restraint, though and was a good performance in a poorly sketched role.
The film itself, for all its posturing is in tone as naive and adolescent as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. Luhrmann takes the simple view on everything, from Wenham's relentlessly evil bad guy to Jackman's salt of the earth good guy and even Kidman's English aristocrat. Every character is a simple archetype and nothing more. Similarly the film's message, racism is bad people, is handled with as much finesse as Paul Haggis' Crash. Which for the record is an insult not a compliment. In paying homage to an era of film-making that has long passed us by - the sweeping romantic epics of the thirties and forties - Luhrmann has seemingly forgot that these films showed the world as they'd like it to be, in which bad was bad, good was good and love was eternal, and not as it actually was. For the 30's this was fine, film was still young and seen only as escapism, but for now it just seems past its sell by date. these films stopped being made for a reason I guess. The only chance he had was to bring something new to the mix, but it seems he was so enamoured by the era that he can't see its detraction's. For a film that wants to be seen as quality adult entertainment, it simply can't show the world In such an adolescent way. And on a less critical note, Kidman's character kept calling Jackman's character the drover even after she was married to him. You'd think she would have learned his name.
To conclude, this is not a bad film per say, but the notion that it is Oscar worthy is ridiculous. Its a guilty pleasure for readers of romance novels. One to add to the guilty pleasure section if you loved Gone with the wind. Which I didn't for the record.