Baz Luhrmann's newest film, Australia, has a lot to live up to. It's the director's first film since his smash hit Moulin Rouge! and (as the film's title suggests) the film has taken the unenviable role of attempting to fully capture the history of the director's homeland. Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, Australia has a lot going on: an opposites-attract love story, a cattle drive, a WWII bombing raid, discussions about race and at one point, a rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Does Luhrmann succeed in making a new, modern classic? Read the collected reviews after the jump.Washington Post:
But it turns out that "Australia," which arrives in the wake of much gossip about a troubled production, a disastrously swollen budget and multiple endings, doesn't wink as often as it genuflects toward its massive subject and, even more worshipfully, toward old-school Hollywood schmaltz. A wildly ambitious, luridly indulgent spectacle of romance, action, melodrama and revisionism, "Australia" is windy, overblown, utterly preposterous and insanely entertaining.
More than anything else in the film, Nullah included, Ms. Kidman tethers “Australia” to the world of human feeling and brings Mr. Luhrmann’s outrageous flights of fancy down to earth. That may not be where he prefers to make movies, but it’s a necessary place for even a fantasist to visit. Although many of his Western contemporaries like to root around in down-and-dirty realism, Mr. Luhrmann maintains a full-throttle commitment to cinematic illusion and what he characterizes as the “heightened artifice” of his so-called Red Curtain trilogy, “Strictly Ballroom,” “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge.” You may not always see the people for the production design in these, but when you do — as in “Romeo + Juliet” and sometimes here — they spring forth from their fantastical milieus like fists.
t's a mystery to me how Baz Luhrmann continues to be regarded as a director worth following. A long time has passed since I've regarded his lush, loud, defiantly unsubtle output with anything but dread. In Australia, his new romantic-epic-Western-protest-war drama, Luhrmann's dedication to cliché has become so absolute, it starts to verge on a kind of genius. There's not a single music cue that isn't obvious (swelling strings to indicate heartbreak, wailing didgeridoo to signal aboriginal nobility). Nary a line of dialogue is spoken that hasn't been boiled down, like condensed milk, from a huge vat of earlier Hollywood films (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Out of Africa, and various John Ford cattle-drive pictures being the most obvious referents). But to marvel at the purity of Australia's corniness isn't to imply that the movie functions as so-bad-it's-good camp, or guilty pleasure, or anything else involving aesthetic enjoyment. Audiences without a vast appetite for racial condescension, CGI cattle, and backlit smooches will sit through Australia with all the enthusiasm of the British convicts who were shipped to that continent against their will in the late 18th century.
Luhrmann — the good-crazy Luhrmann — has a taste for lavish spectacles, and he places an elaborate set piece smack in the middle of "Australia" that, as I watched it, made me believe the movie had completely recovered from its wobbly beginning and would only get better. Boy, was I wrong: The second half of "Australia," Luhrmann's attempt to pull off a wartime weeper, is so aggressively sentimental that it begins to feel more like punishment than pleasure. I left "Australia" feeling drained and weakened, as if I'd suffered a gradual poisoning at the hands of a mad scientist.
The film is visually arresting, with some notably Remington-style painterly landscapes. But the banal story and predictable arc seems a departure for director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!), whose work is usually more inventive.
Long before the second hour of Australia (which feels like the fifth), it's clear that Luhrmann hasn't found a satisfactory way to make a movie nearly as ballsy — or coherent — as he wants his creation to be. Missing the e in epic, the filmmaker has produced a labored pic, weighed down by the very artifice that is traditionally his specialty. And slogging on into the third hour (or is it the eighth?) of his antipodean attempt at Gone With the Wind — complete with themes of love, war, racism, and the joys of playing a harmonica — Luhrmann employs the brute strength one might expect of...maybe a drover.
As year-end movies go, I had high hopes for Australia. I really wanted to like this one. In a jaded epoch of pretentiousness and cookie-cutter déjà vu, a humongous, sprawling, romantic, action-packed epic (bring ’em on!) about earth’s last untamed frontier, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, was, I bargained, just what the doctor ordered. Alas, it is my sad duty to report that even the two prettiest people on the screen today can’t save this titanic turkey from dropping dead of exhaustion. Desperately in need of a pair of scissors at a running time (not much sprawl, but lots of crawl) of almost three hours, Australia is one of the most boring movies ever made, and one of the corniest. Bring bottled water, No-Doze, a sandwich and a clean change of underwear.
Have you seen everything Australia has on offer a dozen times before? Sure you have. It's a movie less created by director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann than assembled, Dr. Frankenstein-style, from the leftover body parts of earlier movies. Which leaves us asking this question: How come it is so damnably entertaining?
That said, you'd need a heart of stone to resist the enchanting little boy, Nullah (wonderfully played by newcomer Brandon Walters), the offspring of a white man and an Aboriginal mother, who drives the magical-realist subtext of Australia and its generously inclusive and forgiving vision. (Luhrmann allegedly shot three endings to the movie, and it feels as though they all made the cut.) I can picture hard-core haters of the colonial oppressor rolling their eyes at Nullah's farewell line, "I'll sing you to me, Mrs. Boss." But a little conciliation goes a long way these days, and I freely confess to being almost as undone by the ending of Australia as I was by the climax of that other post-colonial feel-good movie of the year, Slumdog Millionaire.
Luhrmann is a lover of artifice and excess; he's got no use for old-school realism, and he brings an unapologetically over-the-top aesthetic to the table. Here, he also wanted to make a deeply Australian film, to bend the norms of Hollywood filmmaking to the task of telling the story of his own country his own way.
Luhrmann, the visual master behind Moulin Rouge!, cannot compose an ugly shot. But beautiful scenery and the best intentions can't save Australia from dissolving in goo.
Which brings us to Australia. As in all your films, there are a lot of likable elements (as in most of them, often too many at once). There's music and humor and action and romance and loopy camera work and nostalgic nods to the popular music and cinema of the past. ("Oz" being a common nickname for Australia, we get to hear "Over the Rainbow" a lot.) But what might have worked as a buoyant throwback adventure yarn is instead weighted down with historical baggage, racial sermonizing, and, yes, frequent eruptions of tragedy.
Australia hurries to get nowhere, finding and losing momentum amidst the jutting cliffs and endless plains. Only one sequence, a long cattle drive through harsh terrain, works on its own terms. The rest alternates earnest grappling with Australia's troubled racial history, half-earned mysticism, and a surprisingly perfunctory romance between Jackman—charming as an Outback-sculpted man in his element—and Kidman, who never quite loses the cartoon Katharine Hepburn veneer of her character's first appearance. It almost goes without saying that the film looks gorgeous, but the filmmaking behind it feels unsure how to work on this grand a scale. Australia is big. But it never fills the screen.
Embracing grand old-school melodrama while critiquing racist old-fashioned politics, Baz Luhrmann's grandiose "Australia" provides a luxurious bumpy ride; like a Rolls-Royce on a rocky country road, it's full of bounces and lurches, but you can't really complain about the seat. Deliberately anachronistic in its heightened style of romance, villainy and destiny, the epic lays an Aussie accent on colorful motifs drawn from Hollywood Westerns, war films, love stories and socially conscious dramas. Some of it plays, some doesn't, and it is long. But the beauty of the film's stars and landscapes, the appeal of the central young boy and, perhaps more than anything, the filmmaker's eagerness to please tend to prevail, making for a film general audiences should go with, even if they're not swept away. Robust, but not boffo, box office looks in store.
'Australia' opens today in wide release.