Directed by: Baz Luhrmann | 166 minutes | drama, war, western, adventure | Actors: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Bruce Spence, Jack Thompson, John Jarratt, Jacek Koman, Bill Hunter, Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Essie Davis, David Gulpilil, Wah Yuen, Ray Barrett, Kerry Walker, Nathin Butler, Matthew Whittet, Tony Barry, Jamie Gulpilil, Sandy Gore, Eddie Baroo, David Ngoombujarra, Arthur Dignam, Brandon Walters, Crusoe Kurddal, Sean Hall, Lillian Crombie, Ursula Yovich
The ‘Australia’ of the mid-twentieth century does not seem light to director Baz Luhrmann. Whites and blacks live separated by a strict policy of segregation and the injustice done to the blacks is painfully visible everywhere. This does not leave modern western man untouched in his reckoning with his own past. An attempt to correct moral justice is unavoidable. Yes, we have indeed seen that before, with varying degrees of success and almost never successful. Fortunately, the usual inconsistencies and clinchers about historical colonialism are overshadowed by a determined dose of theatrical romance. Because ‘Australia’ hardly revolves around it. Don’t be tempted by the loaded themes and historical entanglements; Australia is romantic adventure in all its facets. Bombastic and bold, nice black and white and sentimental according to every known formula. The film is not ashamed of it. Why should it? The approach today is actually quite charming and the unambiguous choices provide carefree entertainment.
Nicole Kidman plays the neat British lady Sarah Ashley. She travels to Australia in the late 1930s and discovers that her husband, whom she already had little feeling for, has died. Aided by a notorious white drover (Hugh Jackman), she must protect the inherited cattle ranching and young ‘half-breed’ Nullah (Brandon Walters) from the evil Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) and the ruthless Australian authority. It all turns out to be a good dose of old-fashioned adventure. Rough rides through the Australian outback, heroic rescues, fearless enemy encounters and romantic intervals; well spent on the great storyteller Luhrmann. Unfortunately, as mentioned, he too cannot avoid the pitfalls of the well-known ethical themes. Classical imperialist ideas – including the white hero and the age-old exoticization and mystification of the native – are always present despite all the good intentions. The proportions between white and black Australia are therefore easy to guess, despite creamy Nullah, who should float anywhere in between, but in the end turns out not to do so. The discriminatory politics of contemporary Australia is, of course, condemned on all levels, but a definitively equal balance between indigenous and settler is apparently not found even today. It’s a slight blemish on such a carefree story. Because the adventure and the romance is – with the right attitude – enjoyment. The images of the deserted sands and their sporadic vegetation, of the sun setting behind the immense rocks and of the idyllic wooden farmhouse with its cozy veranda are beautiful. Nice and cheesy and grandiose, but that doesn’t make the almost untouched area any less attractive.
Even if the romantic spark sometimes doesn’t quite pass – usually due to the somewhat clumsy dialogues – the warm feeling is preserved. Even gripping ‘Over the rainbow’, the song that has long earned its romantic spurs elsewhere, is not disturbing. ‘Australia’ is made with love and looks like an uncomplicated, old-fashioned adventure film. Only the biggest grunts can withstand that charm.