After sitting through the film's 165 minute running time, I was left wondering where Baz Luhrmann was trying to go with Australia
. The story's loaded with mixed messages, making the film feel like a mixed-up, hodgepodge mess of little vignettes forcefully pieced together. Luhrmann's epic tale starts off as a slapstick comedy, complete with Nicole Kidman
making screwball faces, and winds up being this emotionally draining story involving World War II and the bombing of an orphanage.
Connecting the dots between the rather entertaining comedy that begins the film to the improbable cliché-laden Hollywood ending is a two hour stretch that's at times painful to behold. Australia
does have its moments of sheer beauty and there is about an hours-worth of a highly recommendable film nestled within its 2 ½ hour running time. Unfortunately, that 60 minutes comes in the mid-section, leaving the butt-numbing final act for you to think about as you leave the theater.
I actually regret having seen the film through to the end. It would have been a much more positive experience leaving before Luhrmann brings World War II into the story. There's even a natural spot to end the movie prior to the third act - a pivotal, emotionally gripping scene that really weaves its magic on the audience. After that scene, the rest of the movie is the film equivalent of a square peg being smashed into a round hole, the untidy edges then draped in pretty Australian scenery.
Jackman and Kidman in 'Australia.'© 20th Century Fox
Kidman stars as Sarah Ashley, an uppercrust Brit who believes her husband's cheating on her. After he refuses to return home from tending to their business interests down under, Sarah packs up dozens of bags and hightails it to Australia. Her goal: find out who he's cheating with and get him to sell off their land and go back to England.
Sarah's plans abruptly change when she reaches their cattle ranch only to find out her husband's been killed. An Aboriginal medicine man has been named as the culprit, but Sarah soon catches on to the fact there's much more going on at the ranch than meets the eye. Her husband's right hand man, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), is a nasty fellow who treats the locals worse than cows and wouldn't know the truth if it jumped up and slapped him in the face. Sarah fires Neil, an act which elevates her standing in the eyes of all the hired help on the ranch, including a young part-Aborigine boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), who forms a special bond with Sarah.
Without Neil, Sarah needs someone who can drive her cattle to market. Sarah has to sell off her cattle to the military in order to keep the ranch afloat and to stave off an offer to buy the place from King Carney (Bryan Brown), an offer her husband rejected outright. King Carney's the biggest cattle baron on the continent and he desperately wants her piece of land. And Neil, who happens to be his son-in-law, is willing to do just about anything to help King Carney take over the strategically located property. Sarah hires the very reluctant, extremely good-looking Drover (Hugh Jackman
) to lead the cattle through treacherous terrain. Drover, his occupation and the only name he goes by, isn't a fan of King Carney or Neil. He's not really a fan of Sarah's either, but they're forced together due to their mutual dislike of the competition. Of course, being that this is a romantic epic, they soon discover there's an attraction between them that can't be denied.
Hugh Jackman doesn't need the Sexiest Man Alive (2008) title to drive women to theaters. All that's really needed are a few clips of his shower scene in Australia
to set some hormones into hyper-drive. And Jackman does a fine job of handling the many changes in tone Luhrmann throws at him, whether it's taking part in a Keystone Cop-ish bar brawl or kissing Nicole Kidman for all he's worth.
© 20th Century Fox
On the other hand, Kidman is just okay in Luhrmann's epic tale. She comes off as a little…I don't know…cold, however pairing her with Jackman was a wise idea on Luhrmann's part as the chemistry works surprisingly well.
Newcomer Walter narrates the film, which becomes increasingly annoying as Australia drags on – though that's certainly not Walters' fault. He's a good young actor and the camera absolutely adores his face, as will audiences.
The Bottom Line
's an overstuffed epic in need of a severe trimming. Cut out about half an hour, forget about adding World War II to the storyline, and shift the focus to Hugh Jackman rather than Nicole Kidman and Australia
wouldn't be a bad movie. But as it stands now, not even a shirtless Jackman makes this Australia
Australia was directed by Baz Luhrmann and is rated PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language
Theatrical Release Date: November 26, 2008