Baz Luhrmann's new film Australia meets all the qualifications of an epic film, and hopefully will achieve the recognition it deserves as the child of Ben Hur, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa. It tells the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who arrives in Darwin, Australia on the eve of WWII, to force her husband to sell their cattle ranch and return to England. She arrives to find he's been murdered, the cattle scattered, and nothing to keep her around. Then she meets Nullah, a half-caste young boy afraid of being taken by the "coppers" and sent to the island where the government is trying to adapt the kids to a white lifestyle and "breed the black out of them". The Australian government recently apologized to the Stolen Generation for their policies. Anyway, Mrs. Boss (as Kidman becomes known) realizes she has people who depend on her and decides to drove the cattle to Darwin to earn a contract with the military. The process of bringing the cattle involves The Drover (Hugh Jackman in a terrifically sexy role). There are wonderfully beautiful scenes throughout this act, and action sequences that will make you gasp. There are three acts to the movie, the drove to Darwin during the dry season, the middle act, a time of peace when the rains return, and the bombing of Darwin. Each one might have been a movie individually, but together they tell an epic story.
I expected Nicole Kidman's character to annoy me - her hairstyle mimicked The Golden Compass which was a dreadful role with coldness and dispassion (the opposite of what's required for Australia) but I did believe her falling in love in with The Drover (how you could you not?) and Jackman's acting was terrific. He reminded me of Robert Redford in Out of Africa, playing the disinterested loner who falls in love, but doesn't want to admit that comes with responsibilities. His character has lots of depth, that unfortunately, due to the script, only gets to come up in pieces. When he appears in a white tuxedo jacket at the top of the stairs I kept thinking how much he invoked Humphrey Bogart. However, the absolute winner of the film that makes it a story worth following is Nullah (Brandon Walters). You can feel the yearning for goodness in his eyes. On a personal note, I live in Kenya for a year studying zebras (another life) and lived at a research center where the next youngest person was the three-year old daughter of the manager and she became my best friend. She was Kenyan, half white, a quarter black, and a quarter West Indies, with the creamy skin and dark soft hair and huge curious eyes. We called her Dudu (swahili for little bug) thanks to the look of her eyes. Nullah looked very much like Dudu, so I had a strong connection to his story throughout the movie, wanting people to take care of him and make it all right. But this was a movie, so all kinds of things happened, including using all kinds of magic and aboriginal culture to bring the stories to life from a unique place in history. I really liked the overall effect of the movie, the stories were beautiful, the plot was fine (yes, predictable, but not cliched), and the love story (both between Kidman and Jackman, AND Mrs. Boss and Nullah) was wonderful. Great movie, definitely go see it in the theater, completely worth it. 4.5 LAMBS/stars
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