Australia (2008)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Set in northern Australia before World War II, an English aristocrat who inherits a sprawling ranch reluctantly pacts with a stock-man in order to protect her new property from a takeover plot. As the pair drive 2,000 head of cattle over unforgiving landscape, they experience the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by Japanese forces firsthand.

Genre: Adventure/Drama/War/Western
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - costume design

Runtime: 165min
Rating: PG
for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.



Baz Luhrmann’s romantic epic Australia is a mixed concoction of ambition and pretension. Clocking at a quarter hour short of three, it is the lengthiest film at this time of the year. Australia stars Nicole Kidman (Lady Ashley) and Hugh Jackman (Drover), two of Hollywood’s most famous faces who can sell a movie with just their names alone. 

Factor in Luhrmann, who is the acclaimed director of the smash hit musical Moulin Rouge (2001), and you will get three homesick Australians attempting to win over the box-office crowd by, well, making a movie on what they know best - their homeland.

The result is less spectacular than expected. And if I may compare it to Kevin Costner’s Oscar-winning epic Dances With Wolves (1990), Australia pales in comparison in every way imaginable. Luhrmann has opted to tell his story too directly, using a multitude of cinematic clichés as well as leaving little room for plot twists and narrative surprises, and concludes in a fairly fairy tale-like ending. 

The film is about the ‘stolen generations’ (as stated from its first few frames). These were the children with mixed native and Western blood, who had trouble finding their identity in a land steeped in racial prejudice. Most of them were forced by law to be slaves to the Whites, depriving them of a proper childhood in what were some of the darkest days of their lives.

After the film, my knowledge of the ‘stolen generations’ remains stagnant; I was not in anyway enlightened or educated. In this aspect, Australia fails. But it more than makes up for its flaws with picturesque takes of the remote Australian landscape in sweltering heat. Cinematographer Mandy Walker may have a fair shot at an Oscar nomination for her impressive work here.

Australia is set in the 1940s and is split into two major acts: The first act shows Kidman and Co. moving thousands of cattle over miles and miles of land to a safe-ship to avoid the herd from being taken away from her or being sold at a cutthroat price. Along the way, a love story develops between Lady Ashley and Drover, building upon an already established relationship between the former and Nullah, a young half-caste boy.

The second act is set against the imminent Japanese attacks on the continent. It happens to shape the lives of these people as their love for each other is tested. The first act is better written and directed, and features the most thrilling set-piece of the film - the stampede sequence. Though much of it is created using digital imagery, the experience of sight and sound is what we go to the movies for. Unfortunately, an intended similar experience during a sequence of aerial bombings by Japanese warplanes in the second act is less eye-opening and is lacking in genuine thrill. 

As I said before, Australia is both ambitious and pretentious. Apart from fine acting and excellent camerawork, it does not make a great film because it stays too safe and lacks originality. But, they don’t make sprawling epics like this anymore. Which is somewhat an irony.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars) 

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