An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            “Australia” is a preposterous fragment from Baz Luhrman’s imagination. The Australian director has put his fictional story into a framework of real events – Pearl Harbor, for instance, and the Japanese bombing of Darwin. He then builds his tale around the notorious program known as “assimilation” whereby the Australian government stole half-aborigine/half-white children from their families for internment in boarding schools to prepare them to be servants to the whites.

            The facts, without Luhrman’s exclamation points, are these: Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) leaves her life of English luxury to journey to Australia to retrieve her husband who is running a cattle station while competing with the cattle baron who owns the vast ranch next door. 

            Lady Ashley arrives with trunks of English clothes and a prim arrogance drawn in strokes so bold that we will properly appreciate her later transformation. She quickly meets The Drover (Hugh Jackman in a vintage leading man performance) who drives her husband’s cattle to Darwin, and Nullah (Brandon Walters, who gallantly threads his sweet, brave way through the chaos), a young half-caste boy who hides in the water tank – with good reason - every time someone approaches the ranch. 

            The movie is the story of these three against the Japanese, the neighbors, and the elements. Before succumbing to cynicism, let me say that the landscape of the Outback is so majestic, so enormous, and so glorious under shifting light, that it fairly screams out for exaggeration. Mr. Luhrman is fully prepared to comply. His pen is dipped in excess. Drover’s bar-fighting and drinking are fully furious; Lady Sarah’s way with an umbrella diminishes all comers. She gives forth little shrieks at everything that shocks her. Only after the family group endures a fire, a stampede and a dust storm does her stridency fade. A singular problem here is that Kidman looks extremely silly. Prim and perfect against this storied background just doesn’t work. 

            When Kidman and Jackman first kiss under a tree the camera closes in on their 30’ faces with the same care that used to attend Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Did I forget to say that they kiss to the music of a full symphony orchestra? Though the music swells and shrinks, it is a mostly swollen score. You will see Hugh Jackman wielding a whip astride a rearing horse. You will see drownings and shootings, and you will see lots of spunk against all odds. You will learn also why Judy Garland deserves equal billing in the credits with Kidman and Jackman. 

            Epics tend to grant permission for excess and cliché; this movie abounds with both. But, is it possible that Generation O, raised on cop movies, rap, and slackers, just might be excited by this old fashioned Western? Here it is, the mother genre that gave birth to spectacle. It is probable that only Baz Luhrman could mix World War II bombing raids and cattle rustling in one burst of extravagant profusion.

Copyright (c) Illusion

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