Tuesday, February 2, 2010

“Australia” – All over the map (or, what the hell is wrong with Nicole Kidman’s lips?)

I read a review a couple of weeks ago saying that this movie was a failed attempt at making an Australian “Gone with the Wind.” While that may be an accurate statement, it was also too kind. It should have said that it was a failed attempt at making an Australian “Pearl Harbor.” Yes, you read that right. And yes, I know that Pearl Harbor wasn’t very good. What does that tell you?

I really wanted to like this movie. I love Australia (the country) and Hugh Jackman is one of my favorite actors. But if you’re familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s previous films (all two of them), you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this movie was scattered and disorganized. If you have ADD, you will love this movie. You’ll feel like you’re watching “Gone with the Wind,” “The Man from Snowy River,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “Rabbit Proof Fence” – all together in some disjointed epic movie stew.

Like “Pearl Harbor,” this movie seemed to be two separate movies smashed together. Also like “Pearl Harbor,” this film seemed to drag on forever. When “Australia” Part One completed after the first hour, I looked at my watch and wondered what the hell was going to happen in “Australia” Part Two for the next hour and a half.

At first, the movie seemed to be about saving a desperate cattle ranch; the classic David versus Goliath story. Jackman and Kidman defy the odds, deliver their herd to a ship in the harbor, refuse to sell the ranch, and live happily ever after. Very “Man From Snowy River”-ish, and I was totally on board. …Then, Part Two begins.

Part Two is about the Australian eugenics program of trying to rid the continent of Aborigines through breeding. (A topic already tackled – more elegantly and adeptly, I might add – by “Rabbit Proof Fence.”) The “Australia” characters refer to bi-racial children as “creamies” and Kidman is trying to save one who is the son of the bad guy (Fletcher) and one of her Aboriginal servants. If you can tell me how Part One and Part Two are connected, you’re smarter than I am.

As an added bonus, Luhrmann decided to toss in what has to be the only battle in Australia during World War II. Again, I have no idea what the purpose of this plotline was other than to convince us that this movie belongs in the same conversation with “Gone with the Wind.” Luhrmann wanted us to believe this so badly that he gave Kidman a line that is supposed to be remembered forever. The kid is going on his walkabout and tells Kidman that he will sing her to him. She responds (as dramatically as is possible with her) with “And I’ll hear you.” Seriously, Baz? She might as well have picked up a clod of dirt, shook her fist in the air, and said, “As God as my witness, we’ll always have Paris… and you complete me.”

In addition to directing, Baz also wrote this film, which explains the number of completely unnecessary characters and pointless scenes. This film could have cut out the cattle part completely or at least down to ten or fifteen minutes, and the film would have been better. He also could have removed the owner of the rival cattle company, the Australian army captain, Kidman’s accountant, Fletcher’s wife, and many more (I could go on forever, but I won’t). All of these useless characters took away time that should have been used to develop the important characters.

Most importantly, the film had no semblance of flow. Besides seeming like two separate movies, the timeline was difficult to follow. The film’s opening titles tell us about the attack on Pearl Harbor (I still don’t know why) in 1941. After the cattle are delivered, Kidman and Jackman attend a party which has a banner proclaiming the year is 1939. From this point to the bombing of Darwin, there is no timeline context. It’s obvious that Luhrmann wanted to make a profound film about World War II, but distracted himself with cows.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad film. If you’re a fan of Luhrmann’s, you may enjoy this film and the bizarre cinematography that is typical of a Baz film (I found it disorienting and unnecessary). Otherwise, you will end up spending the film wondering how much longer it is, what cattle have to do with bi-racial aboriginal children in WWII, and if Nicole Kidman’s lips are as bizarre in real life as they are in the movie.

Rating: You should ask for six dollars back. That’s three dollars per part.

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