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Rental Review: Australia

June 27, 2009

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Baz Luhrmann is quite the romantic. He set the stage in Moulin Rouge for love winning out against money and builds upon the theme in his newest film, Australia.

Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman (pictured above), is set in Northern Australia right before World War 2 and emerging into the middle of the war. Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) handles the affairs of deceased husband by struggling to keep up the cattle ranch so that the bully corporate owners don’t take over the last bit of land they don’t own. She hires Drover (Jackman) to help her take the cattle to be sold by the Army.

But the far more interesting subplot is the underlying racism that pervades the country towards aboriginals, primarily those of mixed race. While oft heavy-handed, the film survives the oversentimental and old-fashioned tone exactly because of this subplot.

The center of the film is Nullah, played beautifully by the young newcomer Brandon Walters. An aboriginal boy that is half aboriginal and half white, Nullah must fight to avoid being taken away because of his mixed race status. Walters is the heart of the film and the reason I couldn’t turn away from this movie. His honest and refreshing performance could still any cynical heart.

Australia is an old time epic, a sweeping romantic story, but mostly it is a western and because of this its main characters are embroiled in a fight against the evil rancher, King Carney. Wanting Faraway Downs  (the Lady’s ranch) for his own to complete his empire of North Australia. His gang must be fought, often leading to perilous circumstances out on the open range, but of course our stars win in the end.

In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes, we find Nullah trapped at a cliff’s edge as a herd of cattle is spooked into stampeding towards him. The scene is quite breathtaking.

But the film doesn’t end here, instead shifting into a war film – and why not?!

Here is where I grew weary. The false ending two-thirds way through could have easily been enough of a movie, in fact, is the best portion of the film, but Luhrmann pushed to a grand scale – an Australian “Gone with the Wind” where our determined Scarlett (Kidman) and devilish Rhett (Jackman) must push through a war that changes everything in their world but somehow unites them. Groan.

Besides being over saturated with drama the unnatural look of Luhrmann’s films doesn’t work here. His over saturation of color makes the grit of war seem distant and dreamlike. Where the beauty of Faraway Downs is heightened and the small business versus corporate story can transcend any time, World War II seems a stretch.

Like  cotton candy, the fluffy goodness of it can make a big mess by the time you’ve eaten too much, Australia leaves one with a sour stomach – the hope of a great film dashed leaving one with an overly heavy ending.

Still, the film did make me want to go back to visit the amazing country with its sweeping scenes of the outback. Luhrmann always knows how to tempt the eye.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 29, 2009 12:21 pm

    Oh my god. I can’t believe Billy Mays is dead. It’ll be so weird watching tv without his commercials!! And I feel really bad for him, because he was doing so well with his new tv show. RIP BILLY MAYS! Anyway, nice post.

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