I was prepped to hate “Australia,” mostly because I rebelled against Baz Lurhmannn’s sprinkly-sparkly production of “Moulin Rouge!” that back in 2001 struck the screen, then swiftly slid off, especially with the tagline: “No Laws. No Limits. One Rule: Never Fall In Love.”
Unfortunately for director Luhrmann I still remembered the 1952 MGM production with Jose Ferrar as Toulouse-Lautrec and the magic of Paris created by then director John Huston. So I was wonderfully surprised to find that his new epic (and that’s the word, epic) Australia is everything is promises to be: Eye-popping, ear-pleasing, and soul-stirring.
The grand panorama of northwestern Australia, around the city of Darwin, is almost as off-putting as the plains of the planet Mars but serves as a tremendous backdrop for a racial story, it’s theme of taking native children from their parents pretty well limited to two other countries, Canada and the United States, who on a grand scale attacked their native peoples. Intertwined is a love affair between Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) an English aristocrat who arrives in Australia heading for her family ranch “Faraway Downs” to find what’s happened to her ranch-owner husband. He’s been a proper cattle baron waging cattle war against an upstart Australian of the same ilk, King Carney (Bryan Brown), a man who thinks that scruples is a kind of potato chip.
Obviously, a lady of Sarah Ashley’s standing needs help and who should appear but a horse and cattle drover in the person of Jackman who while lacking some of the obvious moves of Errol Flynn, does a credible job of waging war against the mostly prejudiced members of the community.
In order to earn enough money to save the estate Lady Ashley must drive her cattle herd across pretty beastly country, for shipment to the Australian army from the Port of Darwin.
Sarah is also caught up in the plight of a young native boy named Nulla (Walters), his pedigree the result of an Aborigine mother and a Caucasian father, so he continually finds himself between a rock and a hard place--but he sure is cute. And Sarah finds herself attracted to the boy and all of her thoughts of mother love and sacrifice come to fill her waking hours.
Add to the mix the cattle drive, the Japanese bombing of Darwin harbor, plus pulsing music (wrongly criticized by Anthony Lane of “The New Yorker” as being from the colonial days of England--it’s Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”), stunning camera work, and pretty good digital special effects--necessary because the days of staging a cattle drive with thousands of cattle have been over for about sixty years.
The film is rated PG-13 for violence and mild profanity. And don’t forget, it’s almost three hours long,