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Australia (2008)

Directed by:

Baz Luhrmann

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 165 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A

The reason I love horror movies and the reason I loved Bruce Springsteen’s half-time show at the Super Bowl is the same reason I loved Australia—the pure joy behind them. Even the goriest, shlockiest of scary movies exhibits a glee for the craft not found in most other films of most other genres, and The Boss was so thrilled to be singing “Born to Run” in the middle of Raymond James Stadium that I wanted to don a bandana and pretend to be Little Steven. That’s what Baz Luhrmann’s latest felt like; it may be too long and high on the melodrama, but his enthusiasm is contagious, and this is a movie experience that’s been lacking in many of the “big” pictures lately.

It starts off looking like a typical story of a rich snooty girl struggling to make her way in less civilized society and, along the way, hooking up with a virile worker type—in this case, it’s proper Englishwoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), recent widow of a wealthy cattleman residing in Australia, on a quest to save her husband’s ranch from villainous cattle barons. She is aided in her endeavor by the unshaven Drover (Hugh Jackman), several Aborigines, and a young half-white, half-Aborigine boy (Brandon Walters) she takes under her wing, and as she learns the ways of the Outback, she must fight to hold on to all she loves against forces stronger than she has ever faced.

See, even the description sounds melodramatic—and that’s GOOD. This is a movie full of “flaws”—it’s way too long and could’ve used some good cutting. Also, be prepared to not only hear some unapologetically clichéd dialogue, but to hear that dialogue repeated. There’s weird narration, some almost offensive stereotyping—and none of it matters. This is a big, beautiful sweeping mass of spectacular scenery, exquisite melodrama, and very pretty colors. It’s a decidedly Luhrmann production, and fans may even recognize that his skies look a lot like Moulin Rouge! skies—and I’m convinced that King George is this movie’s Toulouse-Lautrec. There were a few times when I actually thought the credits were about to roll, only to discover there was at least an hour left; sometimes, it felt like it could’ve easily been two fully satisfying pieces instead of one epic, but it works fine the way it is. Attention must be paid to young Walters, who as Nullah embodies a mystic waifishness that infuses the whole landscape with his spirit, and David Wentham as Neil Fletcher, who relished his Snidely Whiplash villainy with moustache-twirling fervor. I laughed, I cried, and I left feeling like I’d been to an old-fashioned romance, adventure, western—this is a film that’s pure entertainment.

It's Got: Stunning cinematography, a big old goofy heart, some cheesy dialogue.

It Needs: To be a bit shorter, an audience of girls.

Alternatives:

3:10 to Yuma, Giant, Moulin Rouge!

Summary

Sure it’s long and full of melodrama, but it’s also full of breathtaking cinematography, love and soul, and all the things movies used to be made of.

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