Monday, 1 December 2008

Baz Luhrmann's Australia movie review

Baz Luhrmann, writer, director and producer of Australia, promised an ‘epic’ and epic is what he delivers. Starting pre-war in 1939 with the arrival of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole) on a Qantas flight from England, it finishes with the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1941. In between time we drove 1,500 head of cattle from Faraway Downs station onto the ship in Darwin harbour with The Drover (Hugh Jackman), have the boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters) taken to Mission Island, as was the experience of many coloured and native children, have The Drover and Lady Sarah fall in love, be separated and then reunited, all the while compete with the voracious and avaricious King Carney (Bryan Brown) and his son in law Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), rival cattle barons and acquisitive land owners.
The thread of the story however belongs to Nullah, his ties to the land and his people. When his mother dies, he is left in the care of Lady Sarah who adopts him as her son.
The opening Act, that of Lady Sarah coming to Australia and to her property at Faraway Downs, is filled with vaudeville as Luhrmann plays up much of the Australian larrikin sense of humour. The Drover (whom we first meet looking up from under his hat a la Clint Eastwood) is centre stage for a brawling fist fight outside the hotel; Lady Sarah’s English ‘tourist’ is excited by her first sighting of a kangaroo; Jack Thompson’s inarticulate entrance.
The film really represents two distinct story arcs : the drove, and war-time. The Drover, clearly a white man, is a friend of the blacks and is seen as “black” by white society, and therefore shunned. Nullah, born of a white father and black mother, is seen as neither one nor the other by each race. The film goes to some pains to incorporate themes of the stolen generation, black dreaming and segregation but it is a testament to how well the story is told without it ever feeling like a ‘message’ movie. There is even an acknowledgement that the most sympathetic of white fellas, The Drover (and even, by inference, the filmmaker) doesn’t always fully understand. Take for example the confrontation between The Drover and his best mate, Magarri, after Nullah is taken by the Police. Even with the best of understanding, a child remains a child and should be protected and cared for by loving parents, not left to their own devices where they can unwittingly get themselves into trouble.
Nicole is fine as an English lady staring down a strange and remote environment. That English resolve is demonstrated here which founded a whole Empire. Hugh Jackman is a little too ocker (one too many “crikey’s”) but otherwise entirely believable as a hairy, sweaty, manly cattle drover who believes in mateship but is fearful of expressing his emotions. There is chemistry between these two and thankfully Luhrmann doesn’t throw in a gratuitous love scene just to please the formula writer. What is shown on screen is quite appropriate.
Brandon Walters is the real find of this film. He is such a handsome boy who is able to look into the camera with such innocence and openness. His manner, and the character he is playing, is so assured however he does not lose that vulnerable and childlike manner.
David Wenham does menacing better than most and the rest of the support performances are great : David Ngoombujarra (as Magarri), Jack Thompson (as Kipling Flynn, Lady Ashley’s accountant), plus old favourites, Barry Otto, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Spence and David Gulpilil.
While Australia is not a complex story, it is entertaining, takes us on a fun and dramatic journey and is most assuredly recommended.


Victoria Goodridge said...

Fabulous review kermit you have captured the essence of the movie with your words. Totally agree with your sentiments. Nicole for once was believable and Hugh well what can I say mmmmmmmmmm!

Neil_Kennedy said...

“You don't find many three-hour fairy tale love story war films about race relations featuring the ultra-competitive beef market in northern Australia. For good reason.”

I know I shouldn’t judge it before I’ve seen it but I think that statement sums up why I won’t be giving up three hours of my life to watch Australia. No matter how much Oprah raves or how much spin the Herald Sun puts on its lacklustre box office performance (read: tanking) I think I will steer well clear of this McLeod’s Daughters: The Director’s Cut epic sized pile of dross.

Now to Kabluey (tagline: Every family has a black sheep. This one is blue.)

Saw this little comic gem at Dubai airport a few months ago. The title and tagline caught my attention almost as quickly as the quirky cover of a giant blue smurf-like creature standing by a road in the desert. Turns out he’s an unemployed loser whose brother is off in fighting in Iraq. His sister in law can’t manage his two horror nephews so he comes in to baby-sit them while she goes off to work. Somehow he me manages to get a gig as a giant blue corporate mascot- the titular Kabluey- for a failing Texas dot-com company. Good cast including Lisa Kudrow and Christine Taylor (aka Mrs Ben Stiller). And that guy from Grey’s Anatomy that supposedly melted everyone’s hearts when he bought the farm. I wouldn’t know cause I can’t stand that show.

Anyway, assuming I would get this from Video Ezy at home I held off buying it. What a mistake. If it was Saw XII they would have hundreds of copies and if you couldn’t get it the first time you would get it free. Not this offbeat and original little flick. No chance. It gets 88% on RT for god’s sake. I don’t think it ever got an Australian release because it’s not The Love Guru or High School Musical 5. But thanks to the wonder of eBay and sheer persistence I picked up a Region 4 (that’s Australia) encoded copy for the princely sum of $10.99 including postage.

So if you want to see a very witty and entertaining movie let me know and I’ll lend you a copy.

Sean said...

Hey there,

Hope you're feeling better and enjoying the rest. Nice photo.

Assuredly recommended? Take Nic out and perhaps. I understand Penny Cruz turned down the role.

Anyway, looking for a movie called "Diva" - obscure French film, circa 1981. Can you or the other film buffs assist?


veejay said...

Found it helpful to put aside the publicity crap (for & agin) and just watch a new release film. Story & performances are fine, and there are interesting characters with some depth in the supporting cast. Several cheesy moments had me chuckling aloud, but I think they are consistent with the style of the film.
I liked the way a number of threads (eg. Aboriginal oral traditions, lack of understanding from tolerant or benevolant whites) were just part of the story progression, rather than accompanied by clunky exposition. Big screen viewing enhances the excellent cinamatography - an IMAX version would have been awesome.

Enjoyed it. 6 out of 10 from a hard marker.