In one of the most ambitious, exciting filmmaking feats of the year, Baz Luhrmann has created a compelling, romantic frontier adventure that is, in its weight and grand ambition, on the epic scale of “Gone With the Wind.”
As viewed through the eyes of half-Aboriginal outcast child, Nullah (Brandon Walters), the story begins in 1939, when Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels from England to the inhospitable Australian outpost of Darwin to visit her husband’s remote cattle station, Faraway Downs, only to discover that he’s been killed by the scheming property manager (David Wenham) who’s in cahoots with a ruthless cattle baron (Byran Brown). Lady Sarah’s only hope of saving the ramshackle Outback ranch lies with the Drover (Hugh Jackman), a feisty, restless stockman. Together – with the help of Nullah and his grandfather, King George (David Gulpilil), a mysterious Aboriginal shaman – they must drive 1500 head of cattle across the Kuraman Desert to market. Then in 1942, Japanese warplanes bomb Darwin with twice the airfreight they used to attack Pearl Harbor.
Stunningly successful both as a vibrant, emotional journey and as fascinating history, it’s awesomely photographed, intensely emotional and creatively challenging, including an effective “Wizard of Oz” motif. Despite some raggedy editing, it goes over the top, then up and over again.
Nicole Kidman buries herself deep inside the character, conjuring up an incandescent image of a powerful, passionate woman shaped by destiny, Hugh Jackman’s charismatic intensity holds you in thrall, and Brandon Walters is enchanting. Essential to any great melodrama are its villains: Bryan Brown is malevolent while David Wenham is loathsome. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Australia” is an enormous, exotic, exhilarating 10. A must-see – this monumental movie stands way out from the crowd.