Tuesday 20 September 2011


(Baz Luhrmann, 2008)

It must have seemed a good idea; a big, rousing, handsome old-fashioned Epic about Australia when it was still an emerging Nation in the first half of the Twentith Century. It is a good idea, if it was done right. If this had been directed by an Australian director - Peter Weir, say - with the right sensibility for that kind of romanticism and that sort of Epic sweep, then Australia might have worked very well indeed.
But it's not. It's directed by Baz Luhrmann, a post-modern artist who presents everything in quotation marks, whose undeniable eye is perhaps best suited to advertising, and whose use of digital imagery in his previous day-glo films means that he was always likely to attempt to use it again here. Everything feels off. There are some impressive sequences and Luhrmann does manage some arresting imagery; from the Western-style shots of the massive cattle drive across the outback to the carnage of the Japanese attack on Darwin. But there are some awful cgi-assisted scenes, too, and the candy-coloured palette is a step too far towards sentimentality (as is the hideous misjudgement represented by the use of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") in Luhrmann's apparent attempt to give every scene a magical glow.
The story has enough sentiment already in its focus on a vulnerable half-Aboriginal child, and the simplicity of the adult relationships depicted don't help. Nor do the principals. Australian Jackman sounds like he's putting on a bad Aussie accent, while a Kidman beamed in from movie-star central where people have little contact with real life or the world as we know it, her face frozen rigid with botox atop a sickeningly spindly frame gives an utterly one-note performance.
They are not entirely to blame, however. The script gives them little to work with, and David Wenham and Bryan Brown fare little better with pantomime villains. Luhrmann has painted well in broad strokes before, where he can fill in around the edges with irony, humour, a little razzmatazz and smoke and mirrors, but this is a genre and a tale requiring a good dose of earnest emotion, of solid storytelling and characterisation, and he is simply not equipped to make that interesting.
Which makes Australia, for all its excessive length and spectacle, a long and slightly embarrassing bore.

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