Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 45 min.
Release Date: November 26th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Baz Lurhmann Actors: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Spence, David Wenham, Ursula Yovich, Sandy Gore, Bryan Brown
az Luhrmann’s latest effort manages an epic feel and an extreme runtime (165 minutes), though the former is oftentimes a result of the latter. Vibrant colors and gorgeous cinematography can’t quite balance out the confusion caused from the rotation of genres as the film marches in and out of action, romance, drama, musical, comedy, and more. And while not every successful epic needs to be tragic, the tragedy befalling the protagonists of “Australia” never quite becomes emotional enough to warrant a deep audience attachment.
When English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels to Australia to deal with the sale of an inherited cattle ranch, she discovers a plot to monopolize the beef trade in conjunction with the military by ruthless cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown). Determined to fight the hostile takeover of her land, Lady Sarah hires the roguish Drover (Hugh Jackman) to help lead 2,000 head of cattle across the unforgiving Australian terrain to the city of Darwin. But the bovine drive is just the beginning of their adventures as a begrudged stockman conspires against them and the threat of the war looms imminently on the horizon.
Because of “Australia’s” lofty scope, the first half of the film is disgracefully dull. The cinematography is the only thing that stands out amongst the uninspired storyline, which borrows heavily from the tones, the characters, and the settings of memorable projects like “City Slickers,” “Crocodile Dundee,” “The Cowboys,” and “Quigley Down Under.” Drover rescues the comically unprepared Lady Ashley from all sorts of humor-injected mayhem in the playful mood of Michael Dundee or Matthew Quigley, while his own personality is little more than a blend of John Wayne’s Wil Andersen and Billy Crystal’s Mitch Robbins. The idea of droving cattle with a mismatched, novice crew is ripped straight from the plot of both “The Cowboys” and “City Slickers.” The jarring separation between part one and part two of “Australia” would have made for an appropriate intermission, or two completely disassociated films.
Visual extravagance may be the film’s strongest point, but its bizarre transitioning between a wide variety of genres contributes to an oddly style-confused endeavor. The film starts almost like a screwball comedy, with fast-talking arguments and a light-hearted bar-fight introduction for the leading man. Once the cattle drive begins, the temper shifts into action-packed excitement via stampeding herds and a suspenseful race to the proverbial finish line. Shortly after, “Australia” saunters into the territory of a romantic drama as the contentious duo falls in love – before digressing into a brief stint as a public service announcement for the mistreatment and segregation of mixed-race children. Toward the end, it finally segues into a war film adapting the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese.
“Australia” does manage a gorgeous look, but underneath that deceptive layer of beauty is a film low on originality. Even when it presents more potent historical accounts, it’s far from compelling. A focused approach and a steadier tone might have made for a finer production – after all, an epic is not defined by length alone.
– The Massie Twins