Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Where to begin? Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann gives us an epic (in time though not scope) tale about Australia. Over the course of nearly 3 hours we follow the troubles and tribulations of our main characters, plus many side tales, until finally it all mercifully comes to an end.

The film begins and ends with a message about the Lost Generations of Australia, Aboriginal children who were taken from their families and “re-educated” as servants for whites. This would seem like a story worthy of being told. Too bad Australia is busy telling so many stories it gets crushed under the sheer weight of the plot.

The film begins, in tone much like the old-style live-action Disney films (at times I half-expected the Apple Dumpling Gang to show up), with the arrival of an aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), into the backwaters of her family owned land. Hijinks ensue with the rough stockman, cutely named Dover (Hugh Jackman), and a young mixed-race Aboriginal boy named Nulla (Brandon Walters).

Over the course of nearly 3 hours this unlikely team, aided by an alcoholic accountant (Jack Thompson) and Nulla’s mystical grandfather (David Gulpilil), will take on the evil cattle baron (Bryan Brown) who owns the rest of the territory and wants to run Faraway Downs out of business. They’ll also fight off the villainous Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), take part in a cattle drive, have a wedding, build a new life, join the war effort, cross the Never-Never, look for something Over the Rainbow, get separated, fight social conventions, and struggle to make their lives mean something.

The film attempts to distill events better suited for a 12 hour mini-series into a single film, and badly. There’s no central story here, so the film continues on perpetually in search of one. When one story begins to lose steam they simply jump to another. Here’s a film where money seemed to thrown at every problem, without results. Also disturbing is how each of these chapters seem to have been filmed with different directors, often at cross purposes.

Tonally the film is a nightmare. The film shifts randomly from tongue-in-cheek G-Rated style Disney to stark drama, to a message film, to romance, to action, to war, and back again with all the finesse of Michael Bay. There’s even a huge Pearl Harbor-style battle scene. Had the filmmakers chosen to take one or two of these stories and flesh them out into a film that might have worked. Instead they simply did everything, or attempted to.

The Diagnosis
There are pieces here which could have made for a good film, or even better a not too shabby mini-series, but what we’re given is an unfocused collection of separate stories which go on forever. Australia isn’t a horrible film. It’s simply a mediocre one with delusions of grandeur which bites off more than it can chew.

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