Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge) gets more and more ambitious with each film he makes. With it’s sweeping vistas, debt to Gone With the Wind, World War II backdrop and romantic pairing of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, Australia is his most ambitious film to date. It’s a shame that it’s also an idiosyncratic mess.
Prissy English woman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) heads to Australia thinking she’s going to catch her husband cheating on her, only to find a country run by bigots. The only decent white man in the region is a cattle driver called Drover (Hugh Jackman). The subsequent old-fashioned adventure strives for the scope of Around the World in 80 Days (1954). What really strikes Lady Sarah about Oz is the poor treatment of the aborigines and Luhrmann soon drops the cheeky tone and goes walkabout with a seriously damning verdict on his country’s past.
Insider information that Australia’s original unhappy ending was changed because test audiences didn’t like it tells us all we need to know about this compromised, occasionally mesmeric epic. The film’s problems are manifold but its real weaknesses lie in the poor editing and the toe-curling central romance between Kidman and Jackman. In moving the focus onto a group of aborigines and a half-caste kid (Brandon Walters), Luhrman wants to show the atrocities that are an important part of Australia’s heritage, but hard-hitting social commentary is not his forte and while he strives for analogy and pertinence, all is lost in a dust cloud of galloping horses and magical realist swish.
General release from Fri 26 Dec.