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Australia (2008)

Film review: Australia (2008), directed by Baz Luhrmann

australiAs I was at home one Monday, having come down with something dashed inconvenient the night before, I decided to catch up with my V+. I tend to record movies that I want to watch, but there’s getting the time to try and actually watch them – especially when they’re exceedingly long, like this one. (Gladiator is another one waiting for me to have 3½ hours to spare.)

In Australia, we start out in good old Britannia just before the Second World War, with Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who is tired of her husband always being away in Australia when he could be at home and not lose most of his money on a blasted cattle ranch on the other side of the world. She decides to go there herself and sell the darn thing. Travelling across the globe is a doddle. What she encounters when she gets there is a whole other matter.

In Down Underland, King Carney (Bryan Brown) is the king of cattle – he owns big parts of the Northern Territory and he wants to buy the Ashleys’ farm. He also wants to get his hands on a big contract, to supply the military with beef. Carney is the main antagonist of the film, if you will. Another one is Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), a less than sympathetic bloke at the farm.

To collect Lady Ashley from Darwin, Lord Ashley sends his best man, “the Drover” (Hugh Jackman) – a rugged, manly fella of a cowboy. Back at the station (or “ranch” if you’ve not spent years obsessing over Aussie medical dramas set in the Outback), it turns out that Lord Ashley has been killed. It would appear an Aboriginal man known as King George (David Gulpilil) is responsible. But is he really?

Here, we also come across a boy called Nullah (Brandon Walters), who is half Aboriginee and half white, and we follow him and his story just as much as we follow that of Sarah and the Drover (for whom love is in the air … duh). I loved Nullah and his story. Back in the day, mixed race (I hate the word “race” – we’re all humans, ffs!) children were taken away from their families and raised in camps, to “save their souls” or other bullcrap along those lines. Nullah is constantly under threat of being taken away, but as it turns out, Sarah is not your average English lady – she tries to protect him the best she can.

He’s also has a heart-stoppingly beautiful face, and I mean that in a very non-creepy way!!

Another thing that caught my eye was the disclaimer at the beginning of the film, warning certain peoples (such as the Torres Straight Islanders) about content in the movie – that it would contain hearing the dead, or something like that. It’s not a warning you see every day, and I thought it was wonderful to see such sensitivity and respect for others. In fact, I’d say this movie as a whole is very respectful to Native Australians. Nullah is one of the main characters of the story and it feels as if their traditions are portrayed lovingly, like when King George wants Nullah to join him on a walkabout.

If you’re a sucker for great, sweeping landscape and nature shots in general, you’ll like Australia. If you have a thing about the Australian Outback to boot, this film is brilliant – it’s full of scenery porn. If your thing is more geared toward humans rather than landscapes devoid of human influence, you can’t go wrong. Rugged, manly men – and I do mean both Jackman and Wenham here, even though Jackman’s character is the marriage material.

G’day, cowboy!

I enjoyed the acting, the actors, the scenery, the story … Then again, Baz Luhrmann is behind it, and I also love the quirky Moulin Rouge! – another Kidman flick, which I’ve heard is the sort of movie you either love or hate. Or maybe, love or “don’t get”. The only thing which I could really criticise Australia for is that it’s two average-length movies done as one overly long movie. Really. The first half and the second half are two self-contained stories and could easily have been done as Australia and Australia II: The Sequel or something like that. Perhaps they didn’t think it would work as two movies, because while it’s very emotionally engaging and I loved most of it, it’s not exactly … blockbuster material, perhaps?

Part one focuses on the story of Sarah coming to Darwin and how she gets to know the country, the station and fall in love with the Drover. The plot is to do with King Carney and his bid to win the cattle contract to supply livestock for beef to the army. That story arc has a beginning, middle and end, and it felt like a natural ending as well. They could’ve left it there. But no, instead, roll on the Japanese trying to invade Australia in the Second World War, and living happily ever after isn’t perhaps all it first seemed cracked up to be. And that’s the second half, which is also to do with a colony of (frankly) stolen half-white/half-Aboriginal children. This too has a beginning, a middle and most definitely an end. But instead, it’s two movies for the price of one, which is peculiar. On the other hand, I guess you could accuse The Sound of Music of doing exactly the same, and maybe even Gone with the Wind, although I’ve seen that one a lot less so not 100%.

“Mine now.”

I suppose you could see Australia as a modern day epic. Less cheery singing than The Sound of Music (although they do whistle, sing and play Over The Rainbow a number of times), and the main female character is a lot more likable than Scarlett O’Hara, but it’s epic in much the same way as Gone with the Wind. As it also has a stellar cast, particularly like Bryan Brown’s portrayal of a sleazebag, this should be a movie to remember, even if it’s raw or even depressing at times. But it’s also strangely beautiful.

The fact that I can still look back at it, weeks after I saw it, and it still moves me, I’m inclined to give it a 5 out of 5 sabotaged wind turbines. I’d definitely watch this again.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

9 thoughts on “Australia (2008)

  1. Ooh, you’re right, that IS interesting. How nice of them to set up a trust fund for him! 🙂 He’s a truly talented actor, but this is the only film he’s been in. Maybe he isn’t interested in doing more film work? Or maybe he’ll do some more when he’s older?

  2. Ya know I haven’t seen this yet? Many Aussie critics said the movie was designed for an International audience, rather than an Australian one, so I didn’t rush out to see it. Hugh looks bloody lovely though! I should make the effort to see it!

    Re the disclaimer at the start, something along those lines appears before all TV programs and films here which depict indigenous people who may be deceased or may have died since filming, due to customs and belief systems around death and spirits.

    I expect there would have been an acknowledgment of country too? (the traditional owners of the land where the movie was filmed).

  3. Thanks for the great review. I saw it when it was first released and thought it was a sweeping epic of the kind we rarely see these days. Great to see Bryan Brown who I remember from Breaker Morant and A Town Like Alice, and don’t see in the US that much anymore.
    Hugh of course looks very handsome. Love him in the scene when he’s all dressed up, like a scene from a classic Hollywood movie.


  4. LitLover: Yum indeed! 🙂

    Ruth: Thank you! 🙂

    Skully: Wouldn’t possibly know, as I’m not Australian, but it wouldn’t be surprising. Nice to know the disclaimer is always included. 🙂 There was probably a message about the country as well, but it would’ve been in the end credits, and I have to admit I didn’t look too closely at those. 😉

    Musa: Yes, we don’t often get these big epics nowadays. People are too busy. Instead, we get … endless remakes and book adaptations that are split into two parts for no real reason. Like, oh I dunno, Twilight 4: Breaking Dawn and The Hobbit. *cough*

  5. If the book’s in 2 parts, why not the movie/s????

    and PJ was criticized by some people for cramming too much into each of the LOTR movies…each one of those was also written in 2 parts

    1. And by others because he left things out. But the LotR films were still three books turned into three movies, not three books turned into six (or four) movies, so I’m not sure how you mean?

      The Hobbit is only one book, as is the 4th Twilight book, and the 7th Harry Potter book, but all three are split into two films.

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