10 Dec


There are those who think Baz Luhrmann is nothing short of a cinematic genius but I am not one of them – of the three movies he’s directed, I haven’t seen Strictly Ballroom yet but I found Romeo + Juliet more interesting in theory than in execution while Moulin Rouge! just annoyed the hell out of me. But I can’t bring myself to ignore his work either because my main frustration with his movies is that he displays just enough brilliance to make me expect more out of him without his ever quite delivering on that promise. It’s like an architect who designs really amazing, towering, complex structures, yet neglects to put in a stairway.

Much of this has to do with his casting choices. His imagery is top-notch, his ear for music is perfect and the people he casts for supporting roles are brilliant – and then he arrives at his lead roles and everything collapses like a cheap deck of cards. In Romeo + Juliet, we had the super lovely and charismatic Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes who together demonstrated all the emotions from A (impassive/ constipated) to B (making cow eyes/ kissing). Then there was Moulin Rouge! where once again a super lovely and charismatic couple i.e.  Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman marched determinedly from A (befuddlement) to B (increasing bouts of hysteria).

So it was a given that I’d go see Australia (listen, I saw Singh is Kinng, I’m not picky) but the odds were good that I wouldn’t much care for it. So it’s a bit of a shock to find myself rather in love with it.

One reason for this is that Luhrmann finally got his lead couple right. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are just as super lovely and charismatic as he likes to direct them, but there’s a depth to these actors as well as the characters they play in this movie that I haven’t noticed in either Romeo + Juliet (which, frankly, is not one of my favorite plays nor are they anywhere near my favorite Shakespearean characters so I’m prepared to cut all involved some slack on that count) or Moulin Rouge! (simply unbearable lead characters).


Tonnes of ink have been spilled about Kidman’s marble brow (as well as her movie star status) and how it adversely affects the film, but she is in fact its strength. For one thing, she is cast perfectly to type: English rose with a spine of steel trying to find her feet in a strange land. The immovable brow coupled with her ease of body language (a trait that Luhrmann seems particularly able to tap in her – it served as the foundation of her performance in Moulin Rouge! as well) is just right for the uptight Lady Sarah forced to deal with a range of experiences and emotions for which her former life did not train her.

Luhrmann likes to reference Gone With the Wind as the inspiration for his epic, but his heroine is a standard from an entirely different kind of epic, more in the style of Out of Africa and Heat and Dust.

Kidman’s Lady Sarah Ashley is at the very top of the social heirarchy and is imbued with the kind of confidence (and occasionally arrogance) this bestows upon her kind – she has a certain idea of what the world is like and she sees no reason why trifling inconveniences like driving cattle through the outback should interfere with it. And like other Lady Sarah Ashleys before her, Australia portrays her transformation from disdainful colonizer to humble human being through her close interaction with a foreign land and its people. From an instinctive fear and suspicion of other people and their customs, she must determine for herself whether she loves the land enough to accept its ways rather than imposing her own desires on it.

It’s extremely easy for a movie of this type to come off as glib and condescending and Luhrmann deserves credit for the way he handles the growing bond between Sarah and her adopted land through her relationship with Nullah (Brandon Walters – the most beautiful little boy who just about killed me with his performance).

Nullah is half-white, half-black (Aboriginal) and, sometimes literally, pure magic. Set in the era when the Australian government followed a policy based on eugenics that is now termed The Stolen Generations, Nullah lives in fear of the day when the authorities will forcibly take him away from his mother so he can learn how best to live up to the white side of his bloodline without, of course, ever being fully accepted as white. He will never fit anywhere, he thinks sadly to himself, never have a story of his own.


In an ironical twist of fate, it is child-less, English Sarah who ultimately becomes that mother from whose arms he is snatched and who is willing to deal with the devil himself to win him back. This probably bears further study but there just might be an argument to be made that Australia works as a (romanticized?) view of colonialism in which Sarah embodies the mother country that has to learn to accept the colonial child on his own terms and let go.

Of course, at the other end of things we have Hugh Jackman who plays The Drover, the traditional foil to the Sarah character – the white man who has no problems immersing himself in the native culture and doesn’t care who looks down on him for it. His compulsions are his own and deeply personal, he leaves nations and the mysterious, nasty ways of their powerful strictly alone. He doesn’t wish to be involved. He’s burnt his fingers once and that has been a lesson to him.

In his other movies, I’ve felt that Luhrmann was able to instinctively zero in on one great strength of his male leads and used them to mixed effect: di Caprio’s sulky prettiness in Romeo + Juliet, McGregor’s sheer niceness in Moulin Rouge! In Australia, he trains his lens on Jackman’s manliness and you don’t see me complaining.

The Drover has bar brawls, he rides a horse, he wears a tux to perfection, he knocks back his liquor, he saves little children from burning islands and, in one absolutely perfect (and perfectly hilarious) scene, he raises a bucket of water like he’s posing for an art class and rinses off his Wolverine muscles in front of an awestruck Sarah. It sounds like career suicide but Jackman manages to invest The Drover with more than highly developed pecs – there’s a lovely heart beating inside the vast expanses of his manly chest.

Throw in Japanese bombs, a truly sinister villain, dancing in the rain, a magical grandfather, some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, kangaroos, and The Wizard of Oz… I rather loved it.


Posted by on December 10, 2008 in Entertainment, Movies, Review


17 responses to “Australia

  1. Kevin

    December 10, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Came really close to seeing this, but I decided to see the punisher instead lol. But based on your review, i’ll give a try.

    Oh yea, please help my friends and I settle our differences once and for all at:

    I’d really appreciate it.

  2. bollyviewer

    December 10, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    You’re sure you liked it because Baz Luhrman got it right or was it because of Hugh Jackman’s uhh manliness?! 😉 I know why I’ve been waiting for this one and its nothing to do with its potential to be a good film (though if it pulls an Out of Africa, that will be a big plus). lol!

  3. blackmamba

    December 10, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    there’s a lovely heart beating inside the vast expanses of his manly chest.

    priceless! I think I almost sighed when I read that line at end of that paragraph. 🙂

  4. ana

    December 11, 2008 at 1:04 am

    Most likely I will have to wait until this comes out on DVD, but I am looking forward to watching this. And I’ve yet to watch a Baz Luhrman film (gasp!) so hopefully I won’t be disappointed.

  5. Kokonad

    December 11, 2008 at 2:25 am

    I loved this movie!!! I found the lighting a little outlandish but there is not much you can do in such low lighting… I wanted to write a review for this too 🙂 Oh and yeah, I fell in love with Nicole Kidman all over again. 🙂 (Deep dreamy sigh)

  6. Jawahara

    December 11, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Your review was wonderful but for some reason I am off the big-epic-sweeing-moments-swelling music kinds of stuff these days. Especially f this movie, because I saw and was genuinely moved by The Rabbit-Proof Fence, a few years ago. It is the true story of the stolen generation, a young girl with her little sister and cousin, who run away from one of the re-education camps, and walk the thousands of miles home, using the fence as a guide.

    I know I’ll be comparing the two.

  7. ravi nair

    December 11, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Strictly Ballroom is a nice movie, if you are into dancing etc like my wife is. Give moi a good book and I’ll take that over movies any day.

    As for Moulin Rouge, I slept right through it and to this day, am ignorant about the movie which suits me just fine 🙂

  8. M

    December 11, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Huh – your review *almost* convinced me to see this…but Nah! Rather dislike Kidman, so that tends to put me off movies with her in it!

    Though, I saw a pic of her in riding clothes, I think…and the boots…instant lust. Do the boots feature prominently in the movie? I might go then – just to drool…

    M (shallow as they come)

  9. Orange Jammies

    December 11, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Will watch. Only because you recommend it, O wise one. 🙂

  10. Amrita

    December 11, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Kevin – thanks for the link. If Punisher is more your style then I wouldn’t really recommend this one, lol.

    BV – am I that obvious? 😳 It’s not as good as Out of Africa, mainly because Luhrmann’s idea of an epic is a movie that tells one story, pauses, think about it, and then tells you about this story that’s related to it, repeat – while OoA was much more structured, but it was lovely to watch.

    blackmamba – well, imagine what I did when that scene played out on a widescreen 😀

    Ana – this is by far my favorite of the three I’ve seen so far so if you don’t like this one then I’d say he’s really really not for you. Although I’ve heard some people say they have a delayed reaction to his movies so you may well see it, think it was just about okay and then think about it and realize you love it.

    Koke – you should write a review! I like reading them! I’ve never been much of a Kidman fan but this is making me reconsider.

    J – oh no, Rabbitproof Fence blows this movie out of the water! This is like the candyfloss, friday evening version of that movie with extra dollops of eye candy.

    Ravi – I wish I had slept through it too! 😀

    M – I’m not a big Kidman fan either but this movie was really a step up from her other work, I felt. I really connected emotionally with her in this one which I’ve never been able to do, not even in The Hours much as i liked the movie. And yes, she wears those boots for a significant amount of time after which she wears some really pretty clothes. But my dear! you have to see Jackman in a Clark Gable tux! those ridiculous shoulders and everything – yet so yummy!!!!
    (Equally shallow) Amrita.

    OJ – would I steer you wrong? 😉

  11. Gagan

    December 12, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    i agree with the was chaotic and silly…not my favorite shakespeare either….mostly cos i think everyone forgets it was about a pair of 13 year olds, all feeling and no sense at all…seems silly when 30 year olds and above moon over it…
    only Zeferelli i feel got it right…and made u feel the emotions that shakespeare was after…the ache for the innocence, the waste, and the occasional sense that maybe it was best to got out that way….luhrman makes spectacular trailers…have still not seen strictly ballroom or moulin rouge but hearing u here takes away the feeling of regret when i get over it.. this new one seems interesting

    wonder if he’s not trying to be the wasp pedro aldomovar and missing the magic

  12. Amrita

    December 15, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Gagan – sometimes I suspect you’re my alter ego! Zeferelli’s productionw as the only r+j I liked either!
    As for the almodovar comparison… it’s interesting but what immediately occurs to me is the difference between the two. And its really stylistic: almodovar and luhrmann each focus on a specific incident between a tight group of characters but while almodovar’s lens is almost claustrophobic in how near it takes you to the characters, luhrmann’s view is panoramic, as if you’re watching the trials and tribulations of a group of ants. This is why I always have an intense emotional reaction to almodovar’s films and the same to luhrmann’s images. maybe there’s a happy medium to be struck.

  13. Gagan

    December 16, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    if i am ur alter ego…I’m definitely the lesser light…or the shadow perhaps 🙂

    it may also explain why yours is one of the very few blogs i read on a consistent basis these days….

    excellent take on the two, …one i completely agree with….wouldn’t want to change aldomovar’s stuff for the happy medium . i just love the tight focus and the crazy spontaneity .. there is gay sensibility there….i mean that in no pejorative sense at all…as a straight male i take pleasure in that sensiblity cos i sense it has to do with not having defined roles, and conventions so there is tendency to see past the bullshit …also not the straight tendency to romanticize women but seen them as multidimensional characters capable of being soft, conniving, tender, cruel, in essence to hold contradictions without the need to parse them all and spell them out in terms like betrayal and hypocrisy…takes a lot to do that…closer to the truth even if it does come off in a baroque fashion

    though I think on the basis of one film Luhrman could do well to reel it in a bit will be better qualifed to commnent after i have seen more than one of his films 🙂

  14. Amrita

    December 20, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Well, then the shadow is where the deep thoughts lie 🙂 i get what you mean about almodovar’s sensibility – it’s flamboyant in a very real sexual way and he doesn’t shy away or try to sweep things into shades that lend color but won’t be explored. I still remember the first time I saw a movie of his, it was just the most exciting thing I’d seen in such a long time.

    The problem with Luhrmann is that he’s too devoted to the soft focus and the prettiness of it. it’s like seeing the earth from outer space and up close – two totally different things.

    Someone in between these two I think, is Tom Tykwer. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work (i believe he has a movie coming out with Clive Owen next year which would probly put him on the map) but he has this ability to take some truly graphic material and convert it into poetry. I’m talking of technique of course – the three of them make movies that are leagues apart in terms of content or characters or any of that stuff. Yet, they fall along this continuum in my head.

  15. Gagan

    January 4, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Look forward to the Tom Tykwer flick ( had not heard of him- but then living in Quebec is like being in a different continent, my head spins now when I read the English media, it seems alien to me in some way) I think in those terms too on some auto pilot mode, spectrums and where all these guys fit, only u always seem more up to speed ( which is what I like).

    happy new year BTW .. do look forward to what new things u will come up with this year.. 🙂

  16. Amrita

    January 5, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Happy new year to you too!

    You might have heard of Run Lola Run, but the movie that I first saw and fell in love with was The Princess and the Warrior. They’re both in German. And then there’s a movie he made in English called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, which was also pretty darn awesome. I can’t think of a bad movie he’s made. Which of course means that he’ll come to Hollywood and promptly make a terrible movie. 😦

  17. Gagan

    January 5, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    heard great things about run lola run, and Franka potente a favorite ( i was crushed when they killed off her character in the bourne films ).. but as usual have not seen the film…must watch the p and w , and perfume…
    have faith Amrita. look at polanski.. no, not the defiler of underage ingenues,,,,not cool… but the work … pure genius. let’s hope TT can keep the ball rolling too.. but as usual i’m talking smack cos i have yet to see any of his films,….but hey i take ur word on it 🙂

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