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Overall Rating
3.29

Awesome30.61%
Worth A Look: 27.55%
Average: 5.1%
Pretty Bad: 13.27%
Total Crap: 23.47%

3 reviews, 80 user ratings


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Australia
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Includes Everything But The Kitchen Barbie"
4 stars

Are you the kind of person who came away from “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” the wrenching Phillip Noyce drama that exposed the horrifying and racist policies that the Australian government maintained towards the children of white fathers and Aboriginal mothers until the 1970’s, thinking that it would have been much better if it had been bigger, louder and longer? Does the idea of a double-feature consisting of “Red River” and “Pearl Harbor” strike you as the ultimate in entertainment? Are you the kind of person who prefers their entertainment to be made by people who never learned the definition of such empty buzzwords as “restraint,” “decorum” or “subtlety“? If the answer to each of these questions is an unqualified “yes,” then Baz Luhrmann’s long-awaited epic “Australia” is likely to be right up your alley. Buoyed by the international success of his last film, the wild and decidedly off-beat musical melodrama “Moulin Rouge,” Luhrmann was pretty much given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted for a follow-up and the result is an overstuffed epic filled with hunky heroes, beautiful heroines, hateful villains, spunky sidekicks, cattle stampedes, air raids, ballroom dancing, cliffhangers straight out of “The Perils of Pauline” and homages to “The Wizard of Oz”--about the only thing not seen in its 165-minute running time is a group sing-along of “Waltzing Matilda” and I am still half-convinced that such a sequence may eventually turn up on the inevitable extended DVD version. The result is a mess and will likely be jeered off the screen by audiences trained to be suspicious of anything that has made it through the filmmaking process with some shred of an original personality still intact but it is such an audacious and foolhardy mess that I suspect that those moviegoers in the mood for something different may find themselves responding to its singular charms, at least for a while.

Kicking off in 1939, “Australia” begins as the prim and proper Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives to the land down under from her home in England to see her husband, who has been gone for the last few months tending to Faraway Downs, the sprawling cattle ranch that he owns in the city of Darwin. At least, that is what he claims to be doing--Sarah is convinced that he is having an affair and is coming down to retrieve him and force him to sell of the cattle and come home. To get there, she is taken across the outback to the ranch by a two-fisted, hard-living man known only as The Drover (Hugh Jackman), an independent cattle driver who is only shuttling Sarah about so that he can have the job of leading the drive to take her husband’s livestock to market. When they arrive at Faraway Downs, Sarah discovers that her husband has been killed--supposedly at the hands of a local aboriginal chief known as King George (David Gulpilil)--and that her chief ranch hand, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), is a key member of a plot devised by sleazy cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) to force the sale of the ranch, the only one in the area that he doesn’t own, so that he can pick it up for a song and eliminate his only competition. Sarah’s only hope of keeping the ranch is to fulfill a contract her husband signed with the Australian Army to deliver 1500 head of cattle. With no ranch hands of her own, Sarah convinces The Drover to lead the drive with an ad-hoc group that includes Nullah (Brandon Walters), a recently orphaned Aboriginal boy (and the grandson of King George) that Sarah has taken a shine to. Along the way, the group is set upon by Fletcher and his men but against all odds, they get the cattle to the docks in time and the ranch is not only saved but reborn. Even more amazingly, Sarah and The Drover have fallen in love and decide to make a go of the ranch with Nullah.

For a while, everything seems blissful but by 1942, things begin to turn dark. Fletcher, who is now the man behind King Carney’s beef empire following the old man’s untimely passing (if you know what I mean) is still trying to induce Sarah to sell Faraway Downs by fair means or foul. Meanwhile, The Drover has begun getting restless and after a fight with Sarah, he goes off into the night and vows never to return. As for Nullah, he decides, over Sarah’s objection, to set off on a “walkabout,” an important Aboriginal rite of passage. Unfortunately, he is immediately caught by the local police and since he is half-white and half-Aboriginal, he is to be taken away to a nearby island with other children of a similar background as part of Australia’s official policy to take such kids away from their homes in order to train them to serve as domestic servants and to, as one person puts it, “breed the black out of them.” Crestfallen, Sarah is about to turn the ranch over to Fletcher in exchange for his assistance in getting Nullah returned to her but just before all the formalities can be observed, both the island and Darwin are bombed in an air strike staged by the Japanese in the wake of their similar attack on Pearl Harbor a few months earlier. At about this time, The Drover returns to town and is naturally convinced that Sarah was killed in the attack. When he learns that Nullah was sent off to the island and that it was bombed first, he commandeers a boat with a couple of trusted friends to set off for the island in the hopes of rescuing the boy and any other survivors before the Japanese can get a hold of them. Amazingly, things get even more melodramatic at this point but I shall leave those details for you to discover on your own.

Those who assumed that the completion of his so-called “Red Curtain Trilogy” (consisting of “Strictly Ballroom,” “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” meant that Baz Luhrmann would begin making films in a less stylized and over-the-top manner will be either delighted or horrified to discover that “Australia” is, if anything, even more flamboyantly overstuffed than anything he has done before. Even at 165 minutes, it is so jam-packed with action, romance, heartbreak, comedy, danger, melodrama, social commentary and homages to any number of classic American films that even the hardiest viewer is likely to feel more than a little exhausted from the sheer amount of stuff that he is throwing at you. The trouble is that while one can easily applaud Luhrmann for the Herculean effort that he has gone through in order to keep viewers entertained, the result is a little bit like watching a guy spinning a number of plates on rods for a similarly extended period of time--it can be a wonder to behold but once it ends, you aren’t left with much to take away from it other than the experience of having sat through it.. This is mostly because Luhrmann and his screenwriters were so busy trying to think of new ingredients to toss into the mix that they forgot to come up with a basic narrative that would be strong and compelling enough to drive things along while allowing for the various diversions and distractions.

For example, once the importance of the cattle drive is established, about an hour or so into the film, it would seem that the actual drive would go on for a while and serve as the film’s centerpiece. Instead, the whole thing is done in about 20 minutes or so and when it does come to an end, it is so anticlimactic that I was almost convinced that the projectionist had skipped a reel somewhere along the line. Instead, we get several interludes in which nothing much of interest happens before the Japanese invasion that takes up roughly the last 40-odd minutes and seems to have come in from an entirely different movie altogether. (Actually, it does--I understand some of the footage was apparently lifted straight from “Tora Tora Tora”) At times, it feels as if Luhrmann is trying to give us two different movies for the price of one and while I can’t argue with the fact that viewers will certainly get more than their money’s worth here, I can’t help but think that things might have been more effective if he had just gone longer with both halves of the story and split it into two equal parts. Then there is Luhrmann’s idea of using his frankly melodramatic storyline as a way of addressing the cruel and racist policies that the Australian government inflicted upon half-caste children for decades before and after the period covered in the film. This is strong and stirring material for a film (as anyone who saw “Rabbit-Proof Fence”) can attest, but its deeply serious nature clashes uneasily with the frankly florid nature of the rest of the proceedings. As I said, I stand in awe at the effort he has put into the film but while Luhrmann is, as always, clearly swinging for the fences, he never quite manages to connect in the way that he did during the best parts of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge.”

At the same time, however, watching Luhrmann swinging and missing is a hell of a lot more entertaining than watching a lot of other contemporary filmmakers hitting their usual singles and doubles. Even though “Australia” is pretty much a mess as a complete film--how could it be anything else?--I have to admit that there were enough bits and pieces strewn throughout the wreckage to keep me more or less entertained for most of the proceedings. I liked the deliberately caricatured performances from Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in the lead roles--both play their parts as broadly as possible, especially in the early going, and their lack of restraint is a good fit with Luhrmann’s no-holds-barred approach. (That said, while Jackman is perfectly fine here, one wonders what might have resulted if original choice Russell Crowe had played the part.) I liked the boldly stylistic look that cinematographer Mandy Walker brings to the material that gives it the grandly artificial feel of a cherished childhood story that has evolved and grown more elaborate in the mind over time (and in a way, that is exactly what it is since the entire saga is related to us through Nuallah). I liked how, unlike most current stabs at epic-style filmmaking, the pace never quite flags--it may be nearly three hours long but unless you aren’t a Baz Luhrmann fan, it certainly doesn’t feel like it runs that long. Hell, I even liked the incredibly shameless nature of the grand finale that Luhrmann has cooked up for us--few filmmakers would have the nerve to go to the melodramatic extremes that he does here and fewer still would have the skill to somehow pull it off as well as he does.

When I reviewed “Moulin Rouge” when it came out, I claimed that while it was essentially an unholy mess, it was the kind of mess that would assuredly be given a prominent place in the annals of film history--the only question was whether it would be listed under the heading of all-time classic, cult oddity or Golden Turkey. While I don’t think that the same can quite be said for “Australia”--it just meanders off in too many directions for its own good and it never seems clear what kind of story Luhrmann wanted to tell in the first place--I can’t deny the fact that I found myself vaguely riveted by the thing despite its sheer silliness (and sometimes because of it). Many level-headed moviegoers will likely reject it as an overblown mess and I can’t really argue with that assessment. However, if you are in the mood for a jumbo-sized slice of go-for-broke filmmaking that seems to have come from someone’s imagination instead of a screenwriting manual, then “Australia” may well be right up your alley. At the very least, whether you love it or hate it, you won’t come away from it thinking that you’ve seen it all before.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17209&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/26/08 17:27:31
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User Comments

7/21/14 bxytauq USA 3 stars
6/20/11 pwhite98270 good story but not very memorable 3 stars
3/18/11 peter a Politically correct rubbush 1 stars
1/24/10 MV Magnificent movie....amazing scenery, brilliant acting. Anyone with a <3 would love this!! 5 stars
9/20/09 Man Out 6 Bucks A Mexican soap opera, but more insipid. Formula is top star. Anyone see the ending? 1 stars
9/20/09 Oswald Outbax I cancelled my trip to the land Downunder after seeing this indulgent flop of flyblown plop 1 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* Probably one of the most boring movies I have ever watched. I will never watch again 1 stars
5/14/09 Chan Totally unbelievable, best part was when wallabies got shot, only true part! 1 stars
5/05/09 the dork knight The feral kid was a great character. Good performances 4 stars
5/04/09 Joe Smaltz tedious! would have been more interesting if Nicole had shoed more skin. 2 stars
5/04/09 Linda Ellis Absolutely boring and far too long, a bit of everything from past big movies 2 stars
4/26/09 DK Romantic, lavish, epic and wildly entertaining. 4 stars
3/23/09 eidy V Great romantic movie!!! Loved it 5 stars
3/10/09 PAUL SHORTT A MELODRAMATIC EXERCISE IN TEDIUM 2 stars
3/09/09 CTT Big, old-fashioned flick grabbed me right away 5 stars
3/08/09 Aussie Meep Had it's moments, but had to watch much of it in fast forward lest I become bored 2 stars
3/06/09 erik patterson i liked the movie to actually say i liked it 5 stars
3/03/09 BJ If you have a bit of an idea about the real Australia it makes a huge difference this film! 5 stars
2/02/09 aliceinwonderland I do not understand the rating this movie gets.Nothing new and almost boring at times. 2 stars
1/23/09 Missy Absolutely amazing film. Definately in my top 5 ever! Incredible cinematography! 5 stars
1/21/09 steve Wow! Just loved this one! It deserves some Oscar nominations! 5 stars
1/18/09 UK Glenn Beautiful film that doesn't take itself too seriously. I loved it!!! 5 stars
1/09/09 malc so borded. worst film I have ever seen. what a waste of money. and time. 1 stars
12/18/08 ronald a. gagne superb.....great cast 5 stars
12/12/08 Barry Lurmenschenbedektenbrodenwurst Best movie ever period evryone must see it !?! 5 stars
12/12/08 Heidi Predictable. If you must see it, wait and rent it - save the money. 2 stars
12/11/08 Dennis Loved it..will go again great entertainment 5 stars
12/09/08 Elizabeth It's an okay movie, but should have been half-as long. 3 stars
12/08/08 frank had little expectations, but ended up loving it 5 stars
12/06/08 Dan Great movie, terrific human story, and themes. Makes you grateful for goodness in others. 5 stars
12/06/08 CB No wonder people overseas have such stereo-typical views on Aussies - terrible film. 1 stars
12/05/08 Charleton Heston Hugh Jackman is a homo. 1 stars
12/05/08 Murray Loved it, a movie like they used to make 5 stars
12/04/08 Tim Spectacular film! There are a few cheese ball moments, but all in all, the movie is an enjo 5 stars
12/04/08 Leslie Did not care for the move but Hugh Jackman takes my breath away. Looking at him saved it. 3 stars
12/03/08 Shane Could have been a Disney production. What a waste of time and money. 1 stars
12/03/08 kerry great movie that recgnised the stolen generation thanks 4 stars
12/03/08 jcjs33 ok film..like Atonement, a film that doesn't deserve to be up for anything 4 stars
12/03/08 Eddie I was so bored. 1 stars
12/02/08 Misha If this was a series I would be hanging out for the next episode! Just loved it. 5 stars
12/02/08 Eliza Loved the movie! The storyline between Drover, Sarak and Nulla was fantastic. 5 stars
12/02/08 Phil from away The only thing missing was a villain twirling his mustache 1 stars
12/02/08 Andy Not a good movie!!! Walked out before the end. 2 stars
12/01/08 Claire Self-indulgent direction, wooden acting, terrible cgi ... don't waste your money 1 stars
12/01/08 Elaine Agree with review-enjoyed the movie. went to see more of Hugh Jackman, got my wish 4 stars
12/01/08 Mark R Absolutely superb, Nicole was fantastic, perfectly cast, critics should be ashamed.. 5 stars
12/01/08 Amy Fun movie, entertaining, don't listen to the critics! 4 stars
12/01/08 pattie A predictable plot and extremely loud cescendos in case you didn't get the point. 3 stars
12/01/08 Mark An Austrailian "Gone With The Wind" it was Faraway instead of Tara. 4 stars
12/01/08 Kat Nicole gets Baz! Great performance & direction-Loved it, will buy dvd 4 stars
12/01/08 Cathy Loved it. The cinema photography was amazing and the romance was fabulous 4 stars
12/01/08 Susie I watched the credits waiting for the movie to get better. It didn't. 2 stars
12/01/08 Moi Torturous, boring, melodramatic, cliched, "crikey" Jackman tragic: young boy tops 1 stars
12/01/08 Sheryl Lovely. Like an old-fashioned epic. See it. 4 stars
12/01/08 cie59 One of the worst movies that I have ever seen Bad Acting, scripting and editing. Stay away 1 stars
11/30/08 vic go to hell ya US bashers...great movie 5 stars
11/30/08 chris from Perth Wow Aboriginal culture was so out there in this movie- Well done Baz you did us proud 4 stars
11/30/08 Tansi Loved Nullah and the landscape. Story was a little beat... 4 stars
11/30/08 Laura I loved the movie, and never felt that it was too long. 5 stars
11/30/08 Lisa Williams The best movie in a while, beautiful scenery, great acting, and romance. 5 stars
11/30/08 tori Bowie Enjoyed it so much I did not notice the lenght at all. 4 stars
11/30/08 Ian Macdonald Acting great, characters fantastic, scenery unbelievable, a ripping yarn - just a tad long. 4 stars
11/29/08 Lynette I loved every minute of it. It Is like Australia's version of "Gone with the Wind"! 5 stars
11/29/08 Philip Nakashima I love the character of the bush, I love this film for brining this out so powerfully 5 stars
11/29/08 Marianne Loved every minute of it. We need more movies like this. 5 stars
11/29/08 John from NZ Awstrayla...bloody rubbish, should of rented Croc 1 & 2 what desperate movie!! 1 stars
11/29/08 Paulette Lee Stunning photography, fwonderful score, but filled with cliches and cartoon characters. 2 stars
11/29/08 Shelley Manipulative and not effectively so. Tedious 2 stars
11/29/08 Roman Great if you have the mentality of a 12 year old. melodramatic, predictable...boring 2 stars
11/29/08 Bri Goode engrossing and real...way better than the american crap i've seen lately 5 stars
11/29/08 ALEX BELL One big cliche!!!....walked out after the first hour... 2 stars
11/28/08 Marcia Went in with no expectations, and LOVED it! Will watch it again 5 stars
11/28/08 Richard Yes, the story-line has loop holes, but I still loved it. 5 stars
11/27/08 Miranda Great. Alot better than the shit that comes out of America 5 stars
11/27/08 Alex Maxwell It's been a long time since I spent $10 so badly 1 stars
11/27/08 Barbara - American living in Aussie The audience applauded at the end. It was so awesome and I totally agree with the review. 5 stars
11/27/08 David Hastings Pretentious, perfunctory, confusing and distracted. A children's movie. Post-modern junk. 1 stars
11/27/08 Mick All Americans are officially homeless bums. UHZZIES OWN THEIR SHIT! 5 stars
11/26/08 Mark 'Australia' is an incredible film. Wonderful, unashamed melodrama! 4 stars
11/26/08 vanessa stevenson what a bloody barry crocker - in austrlain term: a SHOCKER 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  26-Nov-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Mar-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  26-Nov-2008
  DVD: 03-Mar-2009




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