Monday, February 22, 2010
Movie Review Monday~ Australia (2008)
Starring: Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman
Directed By: Baz Luhrman
Baz Luhrman is , in my opinion, one of the most ingenious directors working today. I adore his style, the chaos with which he opens each film and the subtle, almost imperceptible way he slows down the pace of the film in order to tell a good story. Australia was marketed as a 'sweeping romantic epic' and the trailers made it appear very traditional indeed. However, it's evident in the first five minutes of the movie that it is not a traditional romantic period drama, at least, not one from THIS century.
The actual story opens w/ the voice of the film's narrator-a small half white, half native boy named Nullah, and one of the movie's central characters. His voice is instantly mesmerizing and I felt provided a great basis for the tale to wind around. Nicole Kidman portrays Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat who is called to Australia by her husband to assist in running their huge cattle property-which is currently being threatened by neighboring cattle-man and ranch-owner, King Carney. Upon her arrival, she is greeted by the sad sight of her dead husband lying prostrate on a table, presumably murdered by Aborigine Chief, King George. Determined to save her property from takeover, she enlists the services of Drover (Hugh Jackman)-a hot-tempered, super sexy, beautifully tanned cattle driver with a chip on his shoulder. She also discovers that with her property, she has inherited several Aborigine helpers, one of which is the narrator of our story-the halfbreed boy, Nullah. As Sarah and Drover work to save the property, a task that involves driving thousands of cattle across the outback, they fall in love and develop parental feelings for the recently orphaned Nallah. The advent of the Japanese invasion during WW2 causes lots of turmoil and inevitable separations but 'love conquers all', as they say, and I'll just leave it at that.
Anyone who goes into this not being familiar w/ Baz Luhrman's directing style may find the first frantic 15 minutes of the movie a bit off-putting. It is almost cartoonish in its execution, over-the-top and silly at times. Nicole Kidman's stiff english accent and Jackman's 'crikey's' and 'g'dyes' seem ridiculously stereotypical and contrived. Nullah's traditional Aborigine-English 'speak' may also confuse many. The gorgeous vistas of Australia are a saving grace however, as are the enhanced colors of the scenery and costumes. I feel that Luhrman was making a brave attempt to recreate the 'technicolor' feel of great old epics like 'Gone With The Wind' or 'Raintree County' and in this he was largely successful. The cinematography is unrealistically gorgeous, almost like a set, and those panoramic images coupled with the lilting score do provide one with an experience very like those grand old Hollywood pictures. The dialogue is also very indicative of those older films and plays out as 'hit or miss' in this case. Love scenes are schmaltzy and overly dramatic (great kisses though) and the heartstring tugging is woefully apparent in turn. But whether those are 'faults' or 'perks' are really up to the viewer. I got it. But I didn't always 'buy it', if that makes sense.
On a personal level, I wish Baz had been just a bit more consistent in achieving his vision. Some of the brutal quality of the war scenes and one scene in particular that involves a character being 'trampled' by a runaway herd of cattle were out of keeping with the dreamy atmosphere that prevailed during the rest of the film. If Old Hollywood were what he was after, I think he should have stayed there, instead of bringing us abruptly back to the 'now' of film making with a dose of grisly realism. Also, while I loved the inclusion of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", especially during one key scene that is Kidman's best of the film, I felt it was featured far too often. The constant reminders of the tune caused it to lose much of its initial appeal. Some of the scenes of 'love and loss' were also overplayed.
So the direction had it's moments and it's missteps. As far as the acting goes, I initially though Kidman was miscast but after seeing the movie, she was a good choice. Her performance is endearing after the first few uncomfortable moments and she warms to the role nicely. Jackman is a charming (and physically impressive)leading man who happens to also be a heck of an actor. The chemistry between the leads was palpable...though I'll admit I really wanted to see Wolverine's claws come out a few times, just for the heck of it. The love scenes would have been even better...heh heh. The supporting cast were more physically memorable (some great and camera friendly faces there) than for their acting ability in this film, with the exception of Brandon Walters who plays the boy Nullah and easily runs away with the movie's best performance. I was left with a better (if cinematically contrived) understanding of the Aborigine people and their ways as well as a deeper admiration for the beauty of the Australian landscape.
My rating: 7/10
Style Factor: As mentioned, the style of this movie is one of its best features. Catherine Martin's designs screamed 'Old Hollywood' to me, maintaining a period accuracy and elegance throughout. Much like the sweeping epics of the 50's, the few gritty moments never interrupt the pure and 'clean' look of the costuming...sweat and dirt appear to be painfully placed into the folds of the garments for added allure, not realism. Kidman's flattering hairstyle is very similar to the one she wore in The Others...it suits her.
Style Score: 8