There seems to be a growing trend among modern day films to run with the promise of being an ‘epic’. However it appears that ‘epic’ no longer means exactly that. This is arguably a simple way of getting around the fact that the storyline is way too bloated and the running time is at least 45 minutes too long. Australia is the next in a long line of films guilty of such a misleading label.
The film has far too many story-lines to do any of them any real justice. Firstly we have the arrival of Nicole ‘I-play-the-icey-straight-laced-bint-who-will-inevitably-have-her-her-cold-heart-warmed’ Kidman’s Lady Sarah Ashley an English aristocrat who visits Australia to confirm the suspicions of her husband’s infidelity. Things take a wrong turn when her husband appears to have been murdered by an aboriginal tribesman, well, I say appear. The tribesman has been framed by a plot by rival King Carney to have the land taken from the Ashley’s. Employing the help of Hugh Jackman’s Drover Kidman decides to herd the cattle to a port where the army needs the meat to feed the troops. Oh and forgetting to mention that this is all set during World War Two where the Japanese are bombing the mainland. Oh and forgetting to mention that there is a mixed-race aboriginal boy that is under threat from segregation by the nasty Christians. Oh and forgetting to mention that Nicole Kidman falls in love with Hugh Jackman. As my rather rough plot explanation shows, this is one schizophrenic story.
The film also comes at a time when this Impacter just so happens to be head deep in an essay on South African post-colonial literature (Oh yes, I went there! Who says Uni work can’t be fun and integrated into reviews during festive period?). As a result I felt unbelievable uncomfortable all the way through the film, nervously anticipating how they were going to ‘wrap up’ their ‘subplot’ on the segregated ‘Lost Generations’. My nerves did not disappoint! The film culminates (I do not think I give much away by doing so) with the head tribesman saying: “We’re going back to my country” only to totally reverse the statement with “No, We’re going back to our country”. At which point my face writhed and contorted with great muscular pain. I find it hard to believe how they would, in the 1940s, be able to look at a white man without extreme contempt. Australia’s Prime Minister has only just apologised for the atrocities committed against the Aborigines this year. A fact so well timed that it, in a moment of mind-blowing swaggerying fuckery, the filmmakers celebrate their own smugness by featuring it in an epigraph, as if it were their ultimate goal to achieve such ‘justice’. Bear in mind that the film had been in development for the last four years and so the speech was totally coincidental and of no credit to the actors, director, producers or financiers.
This goes hand in hand with the sympathetic portrayal of Kidman’s colonial land owner who is no different, in ethical terms, to King Carney. In fact I would go as far to say that King Carney seems less of a bastard because at least he acknowledges his role as a colonial master. Kidman’s character struts around the screen as if the only moral struggle she has as she wakes in the morning is in the applying makeup to her pale, dead, emotionless face. Kidman has become an actress so uninspiring in her latest films that I am sure that directors are reverting to using stock footage and using CGI wizardry to try and motivate some sort of performance from the actress’s lifeless body.
Jackman isn’t much better. When he does appear on screen it is for those scenes where it requires him to be topless, muscular and sweaty (if it wasn’t obvious before he’s the guy playing the diamond in the rough!). It comes to a point where it becomes a glorified perfume advertisement or preparation for his new X-Men film. He is also called upon when the audience needs reminding that the film is set in Australia with the disgraceful overuse of ‘Crikey!’ There are also kangaroos don’t-ya-know! I realise that some audiences can be particularly slow to cotton on to things but come on Baz Luhrmann, give us some credit!
And yes I have until this point refrained from mentioning the director’s name in the review which seems to be the other selling point of the film! Before you Luhrman-ites (just roll with it!) start claiming “oh you just don’t understand his visionary masterpieces”, I do! I loved Moulin Rouge (that felt like more of a coming out than it was supposed to). I also thought his version of Romeo and Juliet was quiet impressive. Australia can by all accounts be counted as a rather bum note by Luhrmann. His wife on the other hand has managed to carry on the flame from his previous films with incredible set designs making the look of the film as impressive as Moulin Rouge.
In short, the film has far too many problematic elements to overcome. Poor acting, poor plot, but pretty looking. It can also be classed as the wrong place and wrong time for this reviewer who just got extremely angry with it all if that were not obvious enough. Overexposure to post-colonialism and bitter at the robbing of his Christmas festivities by the hands of cruel, cruel coursework. Bah, humbug.