Australia is a Baz Luhrmann film of epic proportions. Not only is it 165 minutes long, but it follows in the slipstream of other classic titles such as Gone with the Wind. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman headline the cast in their native country and are supported by fellow Australian, David Wenham. The movie’s sweeping shots of Australia are glorious, and add to the grand Western feel of the Outback. Luhrmann’s colourful costumes and youthful zest from Romeo & Juliet, Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge are tamed down in favour of greater social issues. Don’t worry, Kidman and Jackman do share some fire of the heart, but Australia is more concerned with showing the old Australia from the innocent perspective of an insider and an outsider.
Brandon Walters plays Nullah, a young “half-cast”, whose mixed heritage leaves him on the fence in most situations. Australia’s harsh climate doesn’t bode well for the young boy, who is forced to take sides. Nicole Kidman’s performance as Lady Ashley shows Australia from a foreigner’s perspective, as she learns the lie of the land and its norms. Hugh Jackman is Drover and his meandering experience makes him an outcast of a different nature. The three are both within Australia and without it, and their quest for identity in the vast outback, leaves them unextricably tied together.
Australia’s saving grace is its reliance on natural beauty, cultural enigmas and strong production values. The film is entertaining, despite lingering some two-and-a-half hours and has a powerful message of hope without casting stones. However, the film’s vast array of characters are underdeveloped. The introduction of add-on characters keep the epic story-telling afloat, but this doesn’t offer the leads much in terms of depth. As a result, Jackman and Kidman are silhouettes of their characters and this keeps the audience at an arm’s length. Luhrmann still conjures up some beautiful scenes that are both magical and moving, although one never fully immerses oneself in their predicament. Sprawling epics can be difficult to tie down, and this one seems to be missing some heart. Despite it’s thin characters, the movie still plays well on the big screen and will please most moviegoers.
The bottom line: Epic.