Saturday, November 29, 2008

Australia (2008)

Based on my mixed feelings on the other Baz Luhrmann movies, and pretty weak advance reviews, my expectations were pretty low for this one, but it was reasonably satisfying in a kind of big, dopey, eager-to-please kind of way, the cinematic equivalent of a friendly dog. It's a love story between Nicole Kidman's Lady Sarah and Hugh Jackman's 'The Drover' and the two of them pour on the charisma and starpower. Plus, it's an attempt at national mythmaking, chronicling the rugged Outback wilderness of Australia, the Japanese raids on Darwin, and the discriminatory racial policies aimed at 'civilizing' the Aborigines that persisted for decades. Luhrmann directs the war scenes in an offhand, disinterested manner, because he's less interested in literal pyrotechnics as he is in his vistas and actors, which is kind of a nice Cukor-esque change from most modern movies in this budget. Also, excellent work from cinematographer Mandy Walker and composer David Hirschfelder.

While the basic Hollywood sweep of the movie is entertaining enough, at the same time there's something about this movie that has a very second-hand, been-there-seen-it quality to it. Luhrmann's goal was to basically make a new version of the kind of big romantic epics of the past, pulling from Red River and Giant and a little Gone With the Wind, plus some (yechhhh) Pearl Harbor too but without any real 21st century update to the material. The one area where the movie tries to apply a modern standard to the period details - criticizing the country's treatment of the Aborigines - is a nice try but something of a botch, because Luhrmann still makes them into magical/innocent/fairy creatures of wonder and difference and not ordinary human beings. Points for effort at least.

Plus, any movie in which a bad guy gets eaten by crocodiles is thumbs up in my book.



nick plowman said...

I would still like to see this at some point, as soon as prints of it arrive in SA and they can hold a press screening.

Sam Juliano said...

Very fine review here Jeff and one that I can say with all frankness that I completely agree with. Similarly I had the same low expectations. I realize you are not exactly praising the film, but you're saying it a harmless entertainment. I think too many people expected too much of this film. The reviews are actually divided, but with a distinct negative leaning.