Australia

Crikey, this is a fun movie. The scenery is breathtaking, harsh and terrifying and utterly fantastic. The cinematography (Mandy Walker, Lantana) is so lush and evocative it reminds you of why you fell in love with movies in the first place. The costume, sets, special effects and music are all magnificent. Every artist who worked on this film had to have had a wonderful time. Nicole Kidman is sassy and fetching. Hugh Jackman, as People magazine asserts, is indeed “the sexiest man alive.” Twelve-year old Brandon Walters, of Aboriginal descent, is the most captivating young actor on screen in years-an unforgettable first-time performance. Australia is as complex as its title is simple–a western, a war movie, a mystical tale, and best of all, one super-romantic, bells chiming, cymbals crashing love story.

Some critics have dinged Australia for its braggadocio, as if its grand elements make it too big for its britches. It is too big–that’s what’s wonderful about it. This isn’t a self-effacing puny character study that no one outside of film school is going to watch. Australia struts and shouts. It’s never subtle where laying it on thick will do. Yessiree, mate, it’s totally excessive and that’s what it was supposed to be– a testament to all those big, big movies we used to know and love, as did director Buz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge), growing up in far-away Australia as a movie-obsessed kid. If you don’t see in Australia Luhrmann’s tributes to Gone with the Wind, African Queen, Pearl Harbor, Rabbit-Proof Fence and even Dances with Wolves, then you just don’t know your iconic films.

It’s just before World War II when traveling anywhere is fraught with danger. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman, The Golden Compass), worried about her husband’s long stay at his cattle ranch in Australia, sets off, with tons of luggage, via ship, plane, train and rickety truck to see for herself what’s going on. She finds her husband lying dead on the dining room table in his ranch house, felled by what appears to be the tip of an Aborigine spear. Living at the ranch is a half-breed boy, Nullah, (Brandon Walters).

Among his many strange and wondrous talents, the child has learned to make himself invisible so he can disappear from government agents determined to remove all aborigine children from their families and force them into schools. This is the tragic story of Australia’s “Stolen Generation,” a government policy of racism not dissimilar to what was done to American Indian children. Nullah is the grandson of a mysterious old man, King George (David Gulpilil, Rabbit-Proof Fence). King George teaches Nullah the old ways and the child learns to “sing” things to him, including fish he wants to catch and Lady Ashley, who he is convinced will bring rain to the dry land.

In order to salvage the ranch and get the Army’s big cattle contract, Lady Ashley must herd the animals across hundreds of miles of forbidding landscape and keep out of the evil clutches of the rival cattle ranchers. Helping her on this impossible task is the roguish Drover (Hugh Jackman, Deception), who knows too well the racial difficulties that plague Australia. After the improbable pair fight one another as well as the elements to make the incredible journey to the seacoast where the cattle are loaded onto waiting ships, there’s little time to celebrate. The Japanese, having recently bombed Pearl Harbor, are now headed to Darwin. The terrible war pays no heed to lovers, or abandoned children or the principles of fair play and hard work. Much is lost and there’s no guarantee it will be found again. As the film reminds us, “the only thing you really own is your story.”

Don’t wait to see this film on DVD. It’s the kind of gorgeous overblown movie that needs to be seen on the big screen. I loved every minute of it and if you throw off your analytical hat, and just sit back and enjoy its excess, you will, too.

Note to Parents: You can take older children to this movie. They’d really enjoy the character of Nullah and his unique lifestyle. Do internet research on Australia, the Stolen Generation and Pearl Harbor beforehand to make the movie’s interwoven themes more understandable.

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