Australia is long and boring.
That’s my verdict. As I left the theater — while dashing to the bathroom, because man is it a long movie — I tried to think of a better way to say that, one that might make me sound like a professional critic instead of a whiny little kid.
I couldn’t. “Long and boring” is what fits the movie best.
The thing is, I’m not some generational byproduct who only likes movies with a lot of quick cuts to keep him interested. I can really get into the rhythm of older movies from the pre-blockbuster era that took their time. I don’t have anything against romances, either. In a film class in college, I remember watching Now, Voyager — one of those classic melodrama romances that you always see the heroine of modern chick flicks crying at when they’re lonely — and liking it. Mostly.
I also remember watching a movie called Gun Crazy. Sitting in the dark in an uncomfortable seat, wishing I could just go to sleep, it dawned on me that not all old movies are good: Gun Crazy is just a crappy version of Bonnie and Clyde with less talented actors.
That’s how I felt when I watched Australia. It’s a crappy retread of Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and all those other romances set during times of war. (The seats were more comfortable this time around, but it didn’t feel like it, because did I mention the movie is really long?)
“Retread” is the operative word. This is not a re-imagining or a re-invention of the epic romance; it simply recycles the structure and character relationships and themes and does nothing new with them except give them better visual effects. It’s an homage in the worst way: by not bringing anything of its own to the table.
From Baz Luhrmann, an extremely inventive director in movies like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! , it’s very disappointing.
Set in the late 1930s, the plot involves an English aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley, who inherits a ranch in the Australian outback called Faraway Downs. (She’s played by Nicole Kidman, a real-life Aussie, starring in a movie called Australia, and yet forced to use a British accent. Odd.) In order to avoid selling it to reigning cattle baron King Carney, she enlists a cattle drover named, uh, Drover (Hugh Jackman) to drive her cattle to the nearest city, Darwin, to disrupt the baron’s own deal and score a contract that will keep Faraway Downs in business. Disrupting them every step of the way is the vile Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), Carney’s right-hand man.
Straightforward enough? That’s only the first half of the movie. We still have to get to the war scenes: in
1942, the same Japanese fleet that bombed Pearl Harbor also bombed Darwin, and Luhrmann can’t resist sticking Sarah and the Drover in the center of that.
Before that happens though, there’s about a half hour worth of a middle section where a lot of stuff seems to happen, but in reflection I can’t think what actually did. It’s bloated, poorly edited, and should definitely not have been the final cut. Fletcher shows up and makes vague insinuations to Sarah. Drover leaves for no good reason. Etc. In the middle of an already boring movie, watching characters run around in circles until the director decides its time for the big war sequence is not fun.
The major subplot of the movie focuses on the young Nullah (Brandon Walters), an aboriginal kid Sarah and Drover take under their wing. Luhrmann uses to represent the Stolen Generation, a series of real-life aborigine children who were taken from their homes and assimilated into white Christian society. The history is interesting, and Nullah is the film’s only halfway-original conceit, even though the character itself is of the “Golly gee, aren’t I just adorable!” variety. (It should be said that Walters, who also narrates, is a total natural.)
The end of the movie is painfully predictable, right down to the black sidekick’s noble sacrifice and the defeated bad guy’s final attempt at evil. Watch the very last scene closely, though: the way things are staged, it’s obvious that one character originally wasn’t supposed to make it.
From the way I’ve been talking, you might think Australia is the longest movie ever made. It’s actually only two hours and forty five minutes. It just feels like twice that.
Movie Grade: D+
An Australian outback epic that takes place from the mid-1930s leading up to the Japanese bombing of the tropical northern city of Darwin in World War II.