Baz Luhrman’s sweeping romantic adventure is packed to the gills with something for everyone. And, like that wise old adage, this hugely ambitious epic proves, while you can please some of the people some of the time, you can’t please all of them all the time.
Essentially, this is one movie in three parts: a very wacky, oddly toned prologue, a dandily entertaining body and a handsomely mounted, but almost unnecessary coda. And, at a running time of 165 minutes, all of it could have been trimmed.
But when it works, and yes, it often does, Australia works beautifully. Nicole Kidman brings a real movie star glamour to her role as a spoiled 1930’s Englishwoman, come Down Under to bring home that wayward husband of hers. It’s a rude awakening indeed as she arrives to discover said husband’s been murdered, there are troubled souls minding the family ranch and, oh yeah, that cow tender, well, he’s not so bad, either. Soon, we’re off on an appreciative homage to the old western: our heroine finding her inner strength as “Mrs. Boss”, Hugh Jackman looking spiffy riding the range and a few other things, too. And if westerns aren’t your thing, not to worry: there’s a parallel to The Wizard of Oz that also runs throughout, mostly involving a young half-Aborigine boy, wonderfully played by newcomer Brandon Walters.
Frankly, I would have been happy to pack up my popcorn and leave it right there, but, hey, gotta do the war, right? And so we have our hugely cinematic World War II battle scenes, the deaths, the rescues and the melodrama. It’s all very impressively staged, but, somehow, too, kind of cold.
Luhrman has stuffed this bulging feast with just about everything he could think of: it all looks great. The only thing he forgot was to involve us, the awe-struck viewers, with the emotions that would make this big, ambitious package live as long in our hearts as do the Hollywood movies he salutes.