Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”)
Written by: Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”), Stuart Beattie (“30 Days of Night”), Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist”), Richard Flanagan (“The Sound of One Hand Clapping”)
To say “Australia” is structurally fragile is an understatement. The film is like the Sydney Opera House made of Styrofoam. Stand back far enough and you’ll swear it’s flawless. But cross the harbor for a closer look and the darned thing might topple over.
While director Baz Luhrmann has capture original beauty and character well before in 1996’s “Romeo and Juliet“ and 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!,” there’s nothing holding up his newest feature other than it’s extravagant production value and big-name leads.
Even then, ruggedly-handsome actor Hugh Jackman (“X-Men”) and Oscar-winning starlet Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”) seemed camouflaged in the Outback. There’s not much for them to do as two strangers, Lady Sarah Ashley, a British socialite, and Drover, a brute cattle driver, are thrust into the country’s Northern Territory pre-WWII to herd some 2,000 head of cattle from a ranch left to Lady Ashley after her husband’s murder. With King Carney (Bryan Brown), a ruthless businessman who wants to monopolize the beef industry, on their backs, Sarah and Drover must lead the livestock across sweeping landscapes all while protecting the life of an aboriginal child named Nullah (Brandon Walters).
Since Nullah’s mother has died and trackers are capturing aboriginal children and turn them over to the church so they can re-educate them and control the population (if you really want to see a great movie about this subject rent “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), Sarah and Dover take him along for the dusty cross-country adventure. From the very start, Luhrmann seems to profess a larger-than-life promise to the audience. It’s broken when his attempt at making a classic romance turns out to be more inelegant than it should be.
“Australia” does scream epic for its almost three-hour runtime, but mostly whimpers in inconsistently between fits of fusty emotion and gorgeous cinematography. Built on ambition alone, Luhrmann’s ode to Down Under isn’t guided to the level of films like “Gone with the Wind,” “Giant,” or in sentimentality’s case “The Wizard of Oz,” although it tries wholeheartedly. With some disorganized scripting by four talented screenwriters, “Australia” might well be the most disappointing film of the year.