"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Movie Review: Australia

Every once in a while, a movie comes around that reminds me what going to the movies is all about. It's a spectacle and an adventure and a love story. It’s full of magic, passion, music and breathtaking aerial shots. Australia is like the restoration of a long-lost cinematic art. It's pure entertainment with a human element to it that’s just emotional enough. With Australia, director Baz Luhrmann has brought me the most sweeping, grandiose, and visually stunning epic film of the year.

And in keeping with all the larger-than-life aspects of this production, Hugh Jackman of course embodies the manliest character ever. Playing a drover (a person who moves livestock, like cattle, over long distances) who's only ever referred to as "Drover," he's like a Greek god and John Wayne mixed together — but with an Australian accent. Under Luhrmann's watchful eye, Jackman's beautiful physique and macho charm help create something like an old-fashioned Western. The sunset softly lighting a wide landscape view, the pounding of galloping horses kicking dust up into the air, and a rugged man on horseback all make for a fine-looking movie indeed.

So that's most of what I like about the film — Luhrmann's lovely direction and Hugh Jackman — but there are other things.

There are essentially two parts to the narrative in this movie. The first has to do with the very prim and very British Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who gains sudden control of a cattle station in Australia called Faraway Downs, having to get a huge number of cattle onto a ship. She relies on a rather motley crew to help her with this task, including the sexy, no-nonsense Drover and a mixed-race Aboriginal child (sometimes referred to as "creamy"), Nullah. Young Nullah narrates throughout the film, referring to Lady Sarah Ashley as "Mrs. Boss," which adds a sort of innocence and truthfulness to it all.

The second part of the story deals with protecting Faraway Downs from shady folks, and suffering an air strike as World War II rages on. Amidst all this, there is the ever-present danger of having Nullah forcibly taken away by the state in order to integrate him into white society (and to "breed the black out" of him as one character disgustingly puts it). In Australia, the mixed-race children who endured such removals were known as the Stolen Generations, and at some point Lady Sarah Ashley becomes determined to prevent Nullah from this terrible fate. In addition to all this, there are the general story arcs for the individual characters, most notably how the chilly "Mrs. Boss" learns how to passionately love three things: Nullah, Drover, and Australia.

The film is lengthy and there are a few moments when I thought it was over, only to find that there was much more in store for me, and for the first time at a super-long movie I actually hoped it wouldn't end. There are moments of cheesiness (like the frequent metaphoric reference to the movie The Wizard of Oz and its tune "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"), but it's not nearly as campy as Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge nor as over-the-top crazy as Romeo and Juliet. In comparison to those two films, Australia is really just a straightforward tale of romance and adventure in the Outback. Sure it’s incredibly long, but if you have the time and inclination, this movie is well worth the time and money — especially when viewed in all its dramatic splendor on a great, big screen.

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