HIghs and Lows Down Under
by Betty Jo Tucker
How can I complain about a beautifully filmed movie like Australia? Baz LuhrmannвЂ™s sprawling epic boasts gorgeous cinematography, a passionate romance, more than a few thrilling sequences —В plus the magnificent Hugh Jackman in another exciting performance. And yet, burdened by too much territory to cover, this ambitious film loses steam along its lengthy journey.
After a hurried and confusing opening, Australia gets underway Down Under as the ultra-aristocratic Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives from England to check on her husband and his business interests there. Because Lord Ashley has been murdered, Sarah finds herself in charge of Faraway Downs and its cattle. When she sees the station manager (David Wenham)В mistreating a mixed race youngster named Nullah (the very charismatic Brandon Walters), she fires the violent man,В thereby making a mortal enemy.
If it werenвЂ™t for bad luck, Sarah would no luck at all, for she then discovers her cattle are being stolen by a rival (Bryan Brown) —В and she must move the huge herd to Darwin for shipping. Enter Drover (Jackman), a rugged and tough Aussie who reluctantly agrees to supervise the long cattle drive. Of course, itвЂ™s no surprise when Drover and Sarah fall for each other despite their very different backgrounds as well as their push-pull relationship. But their growing attachment to Nullah and what they are willing to do for him adds the most suspense to this larger-than-life drama.
I think Australia should have ended after the cattle drive section of the film. That part of the movie, though somewhat repetitive, features intriguing story elements with fascinating mystical leanings, wonderful scenery, and an amazing sequence of cattle rushing toward a steep cliff — as well as a steamy glimpse of Jackman showering (in slow motion!). IsnвЂ™t that enough to please most viewers? But the show goes on — moving finally to the Japanese bombing attack on Darwin at the beginning of World War II and dealing with its impact on Sarah, Drover and Nullah. By that time, I was too weary to appreciate all the warfare action.
Jackman emerges as the highlight of Australia for me. Endowing Drover with a tough and sarcastic exterior, this versatile actor also lets us see the manвЂ™s vulnerability, especially where Sarah and Nullah are concerned. Many viewers compare JackmanвЂ™s performance to Clark GableвЂ™s portrayal of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, but I found it a more nuanced one. The chemistry between Jackman and fellow-Aussie Kidman ignites the screen, so thatвЂ™s another highlight —В as is KidmanвЂ™s attempt to tell Nullah the Wizard of Oz story. Unfortunately, this Oscar-winning actress (The Hours) goes a bit over the top at the beginning of the movie in scenes where Lady Ashley comes across more like a caricature than a character.
Director Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!), who also co-wrote the screenplay, obviously engaged in a labor of love while filming this grand tale about his homeland. But like love itself, Australia has its highs and lows —В which doesnвЂ™t mean itвЂ™s not worth watching.
(Released by 20th Century Fox В and rated вЂњPG-13вЂќ for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.)
Betty Jo Tucker is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS). SheВ teaches an online class, “The Reel Deal: Writing about Movies” for the LSS School of Writing and has published three movie-related books including CONFESSIONS OF A MOVIE ADDICT, an amusing memoir about her life at the movies. Betty Jo serves as the editor/lead film critic for ReelTalk Movie Reviews and hosts a weekly radio show, “Movie Addict Headquarters,” for BlogTalkRadio. She also writes monthly film commentary for the Colorado Senior Beacon.В For more information, please go to www.BettyJoTucker.com