Baz Luhrmann's historical epic Australia | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Baz Luhrmann's historical epic Australia 

Supping at the magic hour in Baz Luhrmann's Australia

Photo by James Fisher/ 20th Century Fox

Supping at the magic hour in Baz Luhrmann's Australia

Australia opens Wednesday throughout the Triangle

When Baz Luhrmann directed Moulin Rouge in 2001, critics scoffed. The musical was a dinosaur; no point in trying to wake the dead. With Australia, a sprawling historical romantic melodrama, Luhrmann revives another once-robust genre. Unlike the current marketing trend of splintering audiences into age and gender ghettos, Australia seeks universal appeal. Layering the Western, the war movie, romance (and romantic comedy), hissable villains and meditations on race and history into an absorbing and eye-catching epic, Luhrmann attempts no less than a Gone with the Wind for the new millennium.

Luhrmann's plot, taken from his own story and written with the assistance of three screenwriters—notably Ronald Harwood (The Pianist, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)—follows the epic template, plunging into the big open spaces of frontier history. In 1939, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives from England to her remote Australian cattle station, Faraway Downs, to find her husband murdered. She prevails upon the drover, called "Drover" (Hugh Jackman), to herd her cows to the waiting British Army supply ship.

"It's a poor war that doesn't make a decent patriot rich," opines the reigning cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown, Aussie heartthrob of another generation). Sarah doesn't flinch from challenging him and his despicable henchman, Fletcher (David Wenham). Complicating matters are the tangled relations between the Aboriginal and white residents, and the spiritual bond she has with a half Aboriginal boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), who serves as the film's narrator.

Implementing Luhrmann's grand plan takes not just good actors, but movie stars with palpable screen charisma. Kidman can be chilly, but this part is perfect for her. She looks a bit like a lanky praying mantis with her pale skin and primly buttoned up period clothes (by Catherine Martin), but Sarah's a woman with grit (not a bitch) whose soul expands in the rough landscape. Jackman, scruffy and buff, gets the full-on heroic treatment, with a Magnificent Seven-y musical theme and a pin-up pose by the flickering camp fire. He's a rugged individualist in the Western (and Australian) tradition, but he responds to a headstrong woman worthy of his affections. These lively, smart, three-dimensional characters are worth caring about.

click to enlarge Newcomer Brandon Walters portrays Nullah, a half-Aboriginal boy adrift in a segregated society that treats him as an outcast. - PHOTO BY JAMES FISHER/ 20TH CENTURY FOX

Nullah is the tale's catalyst as well as a repository of mystical native lore. Played superbly by 11-year-old first-time actor Walters, he has a heavy narrative burden to carry. His shaman grandfather, King George, is played by the most famous of all Aboriginal actors, David Gulpilil. Discovered by Nicholas Roeg for Walkabout, Gulpilil brought international attention to a people who had little on-screen identity, and it's a pleasure to see him mentor young Walters on- and presumably off-screen as well.

Australia is around three hours long (isn't it time to reinvent the intermission, too?) and while it does have its longueurs, and two or three climaxes, its rip-roaring pace rarely flags. Luhrmann's extraordinary eye is aided by a lot of CGI enhancement, embellishing a vast imaginary landscape—also like Gone with the Wind, which had more F/X shots than any film to that date.

Luhrmann says he dreamed of making an epic about his homeland echoing the films he loved as a boy, like Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur: thrilling yarns about resourceful people living in tumultuous times. His original tale has discreet romance (and old-style screen-filling close-ups) but also a terrifying cattle stampede and a Japanese invasion (reclaiming those genres, too, by being realistic, not sadistic, in the depiction of violence). One hopes Australia, like Moulin Rouge before it, resurrects a dormant genre, primed like a seed in the dusty outback to bloom again.

  • With Australia, a sprawling historical romantic melodrama, Luhrmann revives another once-robust genre.

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Comments

Just saw Pitch Perfect 3 trailer. Looks like its going to be another year of fun ride. Incredibly excited to …

by Andrew190 on Dueling college a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect (Film Review)

We'd be hard pressed to find a free local weekly with film reviews this poetic. Your writers translate complex ideas …

by Aims Arches on Isabelle Huppert Unforgettably Avenges Herself in Elle (Film Review)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

Just saw Pitch Perfect 3 trailer. Looks like its going to be another year of fun ride. Incredibly excited to …

by Andrew190 on Dueling college a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect (Film Review)

We'd be hard pressed to find a free local weekly with film reviews this poetic. Your writers translate complex ideas …

by Aims Arches on Isabelle Huppert Unforgettably Avenges Herself in Elle (Film Review)

Ever since the surprise success of the Fox TV show Glee audiences have been exposed to the world of choirs, …

by philip190 on Dueling college a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect (Film Review)

robertm748: You mean without warning, apart from the very first paragraph of his review???

by Neil Morris on Amy Adams’s Authenticity Elevates Tom Ford’s Glam Pulp Fiction in Nocturnal Animals (Film Review)

Nathan Gelgud is unsure whether the disenfranchised classes in England are whiter than in the US? Really?

Well, …

by Eileen Smyth on Aliens land in an English slum in Attack the Block (Film Review)

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation