Crikey! More Cheese than a Farmhouse Stilton.5/10
I have no idea what to make of Australia. It can't possibly be a serious movie, right? It certainly starts as a camp comedy, then lurches into a cliched action romance adventure, before descending into an attempt at World War Two melodrama and finishing with a dubious helping of Elgar over a rather uncomfortable attempt at serious social commentary. Elgar? I mean why? My dictionary defines a farrago as a confused mixture, a hodgepodge or medley. That sums up Australia perfectly, a farrago. It has no idea what it wants to be so it attempts to be everything to everyone and fails at almost all of it. You can only get away with this stuff if you are really clever and have a well honed sense of irony and your tongue kept firmly in your cheek. Australia is neither clever nor ironic enough, which is a pity, because I loved Moulin Rouge, but after watching The Man with One Noun, The Drover, send a band of wild horses galloping past the ranch house yet again for no discernible reason, I turned to my companion and said I thought Australia might be Bonanza meets Monty Python.
I'm sorry if this sounds cruel, but when this much money is thrown at a movie and it turns out to be this inadequate, I actually feel quite miffed. Had it cost $10M, it might be excusable. At $100M plus, it isn't. I never, ever thought I'd find myself saying this, but Nicole Kidman is probably the best thing in this film, and the reason for that is because Kidman is actually quite good on the camp level (see her in Moulin Rouge or Practical Magic) I have a problem with her as a serious actress (The Hours, Margot at the Wedding.) Had director Baz Luhrmann stuck at the camp tongue in cheek genre, we'd all have been better off. Instead he gets serious and we get a script in which - especially in the second half - every other line of dialog is a grating cliche and competing story threads lead to superficial treatments of what could, taken individually, be quite interesting plots. I will say upfront that I don't blame any of the actors, I think they all did a reasonable job given the material. I get the feeling that Kidman, Jackman, Wenham et al all took a deep breath, tightened their belts, firmed their jaws and said "OK, we've been paid for this, let's give it our best shot." There's an enthusiastic "let's put on the show in the barn" feel to the acting. Or maybe it's me?
The (multiple) stories: there's an aristocratic woman arriving in an alien hot land to take control of a ranch which was her husband's purchase (think Out of Africa but without Meryl Streep). There's a cattle drive across the Outback (again heavily borrowed from Out of Africa) and the criminally wasted diversion into the desert to try and find water, which could, if handled properly, have led to some quite interesting drama. The heroine can't have children (O of A again) and takes up with an attractively roguish man (Robert Redford / Hugh Jackman) while taking on responsibility for the Kikuyu/Aboriginals who inhabit her land because unlike 99.99% of the other white colonizers, she has a conscience - surprise surprise. There are aerial shots of the Australian Outback compare to the aerial shots of the Rift Valley in O of A - there's the pantomime villain Neil Fletcher played by David Wenham (apparently picking up where he left off in The Proposition playing an identical character, called Eden Fletcher is there some significance to the name that a non Australian doesn't get?) then we lurch into the bombing of Darwin and the rescue of the lost children. If there are movie awards for plagiarism, Australia is in the running. It's an understatement to say it lacks originality.
It's also far, far too long, falling into a genre I'm beginning to call the 'Depends' movie, after the adult diapers required to sit through it - especially necessary when you realize that the only really acceptable way to watch Australia is after several drinks. Combine this with CGI which barely attempts to blend into the live action, an almost unbearably cute kid (Brandon Walters is heart melting) plus a cast which features every Australian actor who's graduated drama school since WW2, and what exactly is this movie supposed to be? Even as an advert for the Aussie tourist industry I doubt it works as well as The Proposition, which had better shots of dramatic Outback scenery. And how many visitors go to the Northern Territories to watch cattle droves? If Luhrmann really did edit this down from many more hours of film, then possibly he can re-issue a director's cut which works better. I see it working as a musical, along the lines of Moulin Rouge. The corn is certainly as high as a kangaroo's eye.
I went with a (female) friend who is a Hugh Jackman fan and I will, if cornered, admit to being a closet David Wenham groupie, so we were well primed to enjoy this, two girlies on a Friday night out - probably the target audience. But even Jackman taking his shirt off couldn't save it (and believe me, I've seen other movies where a Jackman shirt removal certainly did save the day.) I have no idea how much they paid David Wenham to make this, but it probably wasn't enough. It's not as bad as their other foray together, Van Helsing, but that's not saying much. And OK, the costumes were pretty. But the rest? Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear