Monday, December 01, 2008

Review: Australia

Let me get this out of the way immediately. The "sexiest man alive"? Hell, yes. As far as I'm concerned, Hugh Jackman should start spelling his first name "H-O-T"

Hot's - er, Hugh's - new film is called "Australia." It's Baz Luhrmann's epic tale of Australia in the late 1930 - early 40s. A prim Englishwoman, Lady Sarah Ashley, travels to Australia, specifically to the remote Northern Territory, to find her husband, who has been trying to run a cattle station called Faraway Downs. She arrives to find him dead, murdered under suspicious circumstances. To see his dream through, she ends up helping drove a herd of cattle to Darwin for sale to the Army. The cattle drive is led by "the Drover," (Jackman), an itinerant cattleman with tons of charisma. Of course, they fall in love while trying to avoid the villainous Neil Fletcher. The story continues through the early days of WWII, with Darwin's bombing by the Japanese. Throw in the story of the "Stolen Generation," the generations of young Aboriginal children stolen from their parents by the government, which was attempting to breed the "blackness" out of them -- well, now you can understand why the movie is nearly three hours long!

Luhrmann has developed a very distinctive style. At times he's over the top - lots of sweeping long shots, quirky little details, sometimes almost cartoon-like additives, tight close-ups on his leads' faces, and a fantastic musical score. Although that style is perfect for films like "Simply Ballroom" or "Moulin Rouge," I'm not sure if it really works in an epic like "Australia" is meant to be.

And yet, I must admit to pulling many kleenex out during the film. It is an epic story - and I'm a lover of epics. It is at times "Gone With the Wind," "From Here to Eternity," and "The Cowboys." If nothing else, it's clear that Luhrmann also loves the epic - and loves his native land. The land itself could be a co-star, so lovingly and breathtakingly depicted.

So, do I recommend it? Yes! Even though it was nearly three hours long, I only glanced at my watch twice - and made it through without one bathroom trip!! (Be sure to abstain from food and drink for at least an hour beforehand) Jackman and Kidman were terrific - and terrific together. The young actor who narrates and plays Nulla, Brandon Walters, is also good - he has the most beautiful, expressive eyes. And Luhrmann must have hired every Aussie character actor available - Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, even David Gulpilil (who I'll always remember from the first Aussie film I ever saw, "Walkabout.")

So, resign yourself to the fact that this film will be your entire afternoon or evening, go light on the snacks beforehand, get the kleenex ready - and enjoy! A perfect film for a cold, rainy winter's afternoon.

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