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Movie Review: Australia

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Beautiful movies require beautiful words. And Australia is not only an epic-length film but it is also beautiful to look at, and so is the hot hunk Hugh Jackman, a veritable Warren Beatty in his prime, who plays opposite beautiful love interest Nicole Kidman. This Baz Luhrmann action/adventure film is set in 1939 northern Australia.

In it, Kidman trades her Aussie accent for a British one. I often have trouble distinguishing the two, as I meet more Aussies in this country and abroad than Britons. But polished accents and exotic country is no reason to see a movie; however enchanting children, gorgeous guys, period costumes, and sweeping vistas are more than enough to highly recommend this film.

One might be struck by the parallels between Australia and Out of Africa, of which there are many. The detail carved into both films wisely includes the lands' native peoples. Australia opens with a nod to the lost generation of biracial children — called “creamy” — that were captured and forced to attend mission schools with other creamy children. There the white benefactors made it clear that such schooling was for the children's own good; their "benefactors" felt it was necessary to brow-beat the black out of them. However, this movie is not about the lost children but a single child star (introducing Brandon Walters) plays one of them. Actually, that brings up one problem with the film — its lack of coherent transitions from one theme to another or an admixture of too many themes; the discussion of the creamy children adds another layer of complexity the film doesn't require.

From the introduction, one thinks the film might be about the plight of Australia’s biracial children. It’s not. Early scenes are deceptive and waste much time in the first third of the film; they might be cut to gather the film's threads into a more seamless look. The struggle between Nullah (Walters) and those who would be his guardians under-girds most of the film, but again is not really what the film is about. However, it is still the film's most interesting thread because were it followed more fully the audience could grasp more of Australia's history. Instead, it is part of the overall “dark” thread that runs through Australia — its Aboriginal cast.

The film really can be divided into three main parts and with a running length of two hours 45 minutes none of the parts is cut short. The first part is the rise of conflict. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) gets a wild welcome when her luggage gets waylaid in the opening fight scene and her undies get exposed to prying male eyes, leaving her red-faced and flummoxed within minutes of her arrival down under. She has left the safety of England to sell an inherited ranch located in northern Australia. At the dock, she meets one of her husband's workers, Drover (Hugh Jackman), picks up what’s left of her luggage, and heads to her ranch. However, all is not well at the ranch and Ashley must attempt to set things right which includes driving out one of the workers, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), with her horsewhip.

Part two, the rise of the villain, focuses on Bryan Brown's "King Carney," which translates to "king of beef." Carney is a cattleman extraordinaire and his beef is prime which means droving (moving livestock) them to the docks first. Carney and the exiled Neil team up and conspire to get a big contract and literally destroy the competition. Beef is bad business. Neil portrays one of the best cinematic villains in a long while.

Enter the "singing" of the old man King George (David Gulpilil who is of Aboriginal descent), who is accused of a capital crime and has become “invisible." George is the magic behind the movie's strong droving scenes. He and Nullah risk life and limb for Sarah as she tries to drive her own cattle hundreds of miles.

How Australia pays homage and highlights the belief and ways of the walkabout make it a must-see film. Sarah tries to tame Nullah and rein in his black magic potential, which means keeping him away from King George. But Brandon Walters' enchanting performance as Nullah reminds seasoned actors why they should never be a part of a film with a fabulous child actor or a well-trained animal… animals and children steal scenes and don't give them back.

The third and final part of the film is the rise of the hero. Drover becomes the reluctant hero after the couples’ dream is shattered by the Japanese bombing of Darwin to embers. The children are lost and evil triumphs it seems, but in the end King George plants a fatal stake in the heart of the villain — a “vampire” created by greed.

The storyline and screenplay (written in part by Luhrmann) of Australia combine to create a rich tapestry. Acting, depth, and breadth of story line, attention to detail, and emotional inspiration are the cinematographic ingredients that make a period piece like this both epic and memorable. The genre tends to be expensive because it recreates time periods in vast beautiful settings and this movie certainly put its budget to good use.

Despite a few small blemishes I believe that Australia will be atop many Best Picture lists come January 22.

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