Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by: Rissi C.
"Mixed emotions." That phrase best describes my feelings about this film. Initially I wanted to see it in theaters but instead I settled for the DVD. Now the question that remains is -- was it worth the wait?
We begin with a young boy, Nullah, fishing with his grandfather in the wilds of Australia. Nullah is a half-caste, neither white nor aborigine; because of that he “belongs” with no one. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nichole Kidman) is a proper English rose whose husband has been living in the outback of Australia. Sarah has decided to travel to Australia to bring him home. After a humiliating meeting with the man who was to act as her guiede, whom everyone simply calls The Drover (Hugh Jackman), Sarah is taken to the house her husband owns. What she discovers is her husband’s death and a greedy land baron attempting to buy up Ashley land in order to enrich his properties. Little does Sarah know what adventures await her on this new quest. With a minor victory behind them, Drover and Sarah start anew and this time with much more at stake, especially when realizing they are in love. Sarah begins to open her heart to Nullah and they build a life for themselves at the homestead … but their happiness is about to come crashing down, with the world on the brink of war.
This film offers many things and chances are no matter what your favored genre is, there will be something for everyone in this beautifully filmed epic. To be honest, I did not expect much from this (reviews weren’t favorable) but there was something about it. Perhaps the spectacular Gone with the Wind styled posters or the a-list cast, but nothing persuaded me to “forget” about it. Australia is a touching and often times funny film filled with wonderful surprises. I cannot remember the last time a movie so genuinely made me laugh. Before fifteen minutes pass, the audience is enthralled -- something unexpected in this story. Then we also have a poignant side with the unfolding relationship between Sarah and Nullah. The affection that develops between them is so sweet to watch; whether it’s his endearing name for Sarah or her singing “Over the Rainbow” to him, you are left with a sense of regret at their parting. Of course, one cannot forget the sweeping romance; Jackman and Kidman are well cast. Jackman is perfect as a rugged drifter with deep personal scars. The chemistry was beautiful -- whether they were kissing in the rain or happily reunited, their blossoming love was evident. Kidman has the audience laughing upon arrival to bringing tears with her capacity to love.
While certainly not the most graphically filmed movie, Australia showcases its fair share of violence. Two men are stabbed with spears; we see one’s pool of blood and his horse soaked in it. Another character is caught in a stampede, with terrible injuries. A woman drowns; a man is shot. A man briefly slaps around a woman and child. Animals are shot (unseen) or injured, cows go over a steep cliff. Bombs are dropped all around the town killing numerous people and injuring many. When talking about breeding horses, Sarah assumes Drover means he “wants” her; early on, talk revolves around Aboriginal mistresses, including comments about their “half-caste” children. Unfortunately, there is a brief sensual scene between an unmarried couple; close up shots of kissing and caresses before we see them lying in bed with some movement and bare legs. There are a couple of other visual innuendoes. An unmarried couple live together for a lengthy period of time. Profanity is fairly infrequent, but a use of the f-word is unexpectedly, present. Caution also comes with the use of “magic”; Nullah supposedly possesses some form of it. Nothing is depicted to any extreme but if I did have a big criticism of thematic elements, that would be it. Another downfall is the horseback scenes when the characters are on the drive; while the actors were riding, it never looked realistic; close-up shots of their faces are frequent instead. With all of today’s technology and the nine plus months it took to film, you would think realism possible, however when the Japanese bomb Australia, the CGI department more than makes up for it. The pure destruction left behind was devastating to not only its characters but the viewer as well.
Leaving much to be desired is the opening to this film; the unorganized introduction to so many characters makes for a confusing start in addition to Nullah’s continuous narration. Costuming for the ball was uniquely stunning, but unworthy of its Oscar nomination. Despite its faults, I loved it much more than expected. It was humorous, adventurous and romantic. Despite the ending having been changed (the second ending is much better, believe me), it’s still one of bittersweet feelings. In one way you understand and know that after two plus hours, the film must close but there is another part of you that wants something different to have happened or a “perfect” conclusion. There aren’t many moral values in the movie, but it does redeem itself with sacrifices by characters, the genuine love Sarah held for the child she would never have, and another character's realization of the love he has lost, because he was afraid to open himself to heartbreak. As long as you know you are in for a long, drawn out (but never tedious) saga, I heartily recommend Australia for older audiences. It’s one epic I’m not soon to forget.