REEL CRITIC:

“Australia” was marketed for weeks before its opening as an epic, and if large portions are any measure of that, “Australia” is truly an epic film production. But large portions don't necessarily make for great filmmaking, and in this case, much of the impact of the story is overwhelmed by the saccharine nature of its telling, and the film becomes a weepy, treacly tear-jerker.

Producer/co-writer and director Baz Luhrmann has created a long, rambling motion picture that is part Western, part war movie and part romance, and the story is nursed along via narrative from a biracial boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), who narrates the story from his perspective.

Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives in northern Australia just before the outbreak of World War II to check on her errant husband and the family estate of Faraway Downs, but finds upon her arrival that her husband has been murdered, apparently by the local land boss (Bryan Brown), who seems to want things his own way.

Lady Ashley meets the Drover (Hugh Jackman), and after a rather rough beginning, a romance sparks between the two, and their relationship carries most of the weight of this film from there on out. The Drover agrees to run Lady Ashley's cattle to market in Darwin, because, after all, what's a Western without a shoot-'em-up cattle drive?

After the outbreak of the war, Japanese forces bomb the city of Darwin, and the filming of those sequences is absolutely astounding, with airplanes divebombing the city and people scurrying about in fear for their lives. Most of the photography of “Australia” is breathtaking, from the cattle-drive scenes and the thunderous stampede to the wide panoramic views of the expansive Australian outback.

Between wars and cattle drives, this film should have enough on its plate, but it also takes on the sad story of the “Lost Generations,” the removal of mixed-race children from their homes to the Christian missions where they were to have “civilization” instilled in them. Our youthful narrator, Nullah, eventually runs afoul of the do-gooders and is assisted in his escape from the mission by his Aborigine grandfather, King George (David Gulpilil), who uses magical powers and his abilities to manipulate time and space obstacles to free the boy.

With so much to do, the film stays remarkably uncluttered, and the only confusion lies in portions of the dialogue that are overlaid with the broad “Aussie” accent and the use of slang that make things difficult to follow at times.

Most of “Australia” is good, old-fashioned filmmaking, and most audiences will come away satisfied, but I only wish that I didn't have to roll my eyes so often at the schmaltzy plot turns, and that's what I will remember long after I've forgotten the “epicness” of it all.


?JEFF KLEMZAK loves movies and lives in La Crescenta.

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