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Australia, and a Brief Word on Critical Expectations

Before I start in on Australia, I wanted to discuss my expectations for the film. This is generally not a good idea, as film critics are supposed to go into a movie with no thought in their minds other than, “I want this film to be good.” However, I feel that totally avoiding the subject is nothing more than denial—critics have the same tendencies that average moviegoers have. They prefer some filmmakers and actors, and they have filmmakers and actors who they feel usually disappoint. For example, Nicole Kidman is one of these actors for me who usually disappoints—she strikes me as very frigid, and usually falters in my book when she doesn’t play a frigid character. Now, this does NOT mean that I wanted Nicole Kidman to be bad, or Australia to suffer from her performance. Quite the contrary, I always want filmmakers and actors I’m usually not keen on to flip my expectations—nothing would please me more. I think it’s important to note these possible biases since there are probably people who love everything Kidman is in, and people who hate Kidman in everything, so if I let people know where I stand, then they know how to take my review in accordance with their own biases.

Aside from the Nicole Kidman opinion, I also was nervous heading in about Baz Luhrmann’s style. His frantic editing and wacky sense of humor was perfect for Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge… but for a 3-hour epic romance about cattle conflicts? I was hopeful it would work, but I also had that slight twinge in the back of my head that 3 hours of Baz style and Nicole acting with this storyline might turn out to be disastrous. Now that I’ve let you know what might have been on my mind heading into this film…

…I thought it was terrific. Baz has made a throwback old-school roadshow epic, a Gone With The Wind for the Outback, and done it with all his trademark earnestness and none of his frantic editing. The only thing missing here was an intermission (and there was PERFECT spot for it too!)—it’s theatrical, carried well by its two leads, with Nicole Kidman perfectly cast and Hugh Jackman using his Old Hollywood looks and charm to wonderful effect.

The first act takes place as Jackman and Kidman attempt to take their cattle to the Australian troops before the troops sign an exclusive deal with a monopolizing cattle king. Sound boring? It’s not. There’s at least one cattle stampede scene that was just as exciting as any action sequence in The Dark Knight. The second act shows the beginning of the war arriving in Australia, and how it affects our characters. The special effects are frighteningly realistic, the romance is sizzling, and the whole things works exactly the way Baz wants it too from beginning to end. I’d like to give special mention to David Wenham, who played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (trivia: he was also the cross-dressing Audrey in Moulin Rouge… who knew?), and here he gives a sensationally villainous performance, the Claude Rains to Jackman and Kidman’s Grant and Bergman. Clearly he will not be remembered in this already-decided Supporting Actor Oscar race, but it’s a shame, since he gave a lot of flavor to what could have been an easy one-dimensional sleazebag.

Most exciting in retrospect is the fact that we see Baz Luhrmann, a director primarily identified as a stylistic one-trick pony, deliver something of terrific ambition and sweep and hit it out of the park. Much like David Fincher lost his stylistic trappings but kept his general feel with the film Zodiac (and I understand several critics feel Darren Aronofsky has done the same thing with his upcoming The Wrestler), we see here that Luhrmann has graduated from relying on style to achieve his tone. He is a filmmaker of unending originality and isn’t afraid to stretch his ambition, and is to be treasured in a time where remakes, sequels, and blasé adaptations are the norm. It won’t be for everyone, but Australia is a gorgeous sweeping old-school epic that certainly deserves the 3 hours spent in the theater.

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~ by russellhainline on December 13, 2008.

2 Responses to “Australia, and a Brief Word on Critical Expectations”

  1. yes, being in australia i like this movie

  2. Extra trivia on David Wenham: I took his luggage to his room when he stayed at the hotel I worked for in downtown Sydney. No tip, nice guy though.

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