Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Frank Release date: November 21, 2008 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
Australia is a misleading title. This is a broad spectrum soap opera about three people who come together in the final focus as the Japanese attack Northern Australia early during World War II.
Director Baz Luhrmann was more effective in Romeo & Juliet and Strictly Ballroom. Some would include Moulin Rouge in that list. Luhrmann brings in themes from traditional westerns, such as cattle drives, run-a-way herds, cattle heading for a cliff, bad guys pushing to stop the good guys from reaching their destination, in this case Darwin on the north shore. Luhrmann also used clips from The Wizard of Oz which becomes part of the hope and mysticism of young Nullah (Brandon Walters), a mix ethnic boy who leans heavily toward the Aborigine side of his family, particularly his grandfather (David Gulpilil).
When Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives in Darwin to meet her husband and sell Faraway Downs their Maryland size station (ranch) on which they raise cattle, which in the early forties is sold to feed the armed forces building a defense against the advancing Japanese. The script fits nicely into the soap opera stage quickly as we see her husband killed just before her arrival. Alone in a strange land the very proper lady looks like a fish out of water but her strength wins through as the film slowly moves its plot. Hugh Jackman's Drover has been hired to move the cattle to the north where the military will make the purchase. The two battle at first, they should - no two folks could be more different. The rough and tumble Drover fights for what appears to be sport and embarrassingly destroys her intimate luggage in front of the local watering hole.
David Wenham's Neil Fletcher is the perfect or completely flawed villain. This guy would have fit nicely in an old story of the west from movies of the forties. He is so bad he becomes laughable yet effective in the climatic scene.
Luhrmann takes his time introducing the land, featuring the beauty of the dry rock formations and the flowing rivers which fill rapidly when the rains come. The scope in the first half gives evidence to the unique land that is Australia. But his story stretches from the romance and passion between Sarah and The Drover which grows quickly to the repression of the Aboriginal population which appears to be most difficult for little Nullah who does not have clear genes from either side.
Thirteen year-old Brandon Walters who plays Nullah is most effective as he tells the story and attempts to understand what community he belongs to. He is the focus of the repression from Fletcher who has little respect or compassion for the native Australians even when they are just kids. Walters is the character who reaches best for understanding and sympathy as we watch him loose love ones and duck and hide to stay away from the re-setliments program which was designed to drive the traditions of the native population out of the population. He becomes a source of hurt and anger between the two lovers, but of course he also is the driving force to bring them back together near the end.
While Luhrmann could have made a more interesting film chronicling the early forties in Australia, he does succeeds quite effectively pulling his audience into the emotion of the three people who begin alone and end in a respected family relationship which is heart-warming to a supportive audience which has accepted the emotion of the story.