Posted on: 07 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia.

Take an Australian western; add a wartime rescue drama and mix with a combination of racism, romance and comedy and the result is Bas Lurhmann’s sprawling epic Australia.

At the farthest end of the world, a woman sets out in search of her husband and finds herself plunged into upheaval and adventure beyond her wildest imagination. Lady Sarah Ashley has spent her life in pursuit of superficial perfection but a loveless and childless marriage has left her beret of anything meaningful beyond her stable of horses.

Convinced that her husband is cheating on her, the headstrong Sarah journeys from London to the remote tropical outpost of Darwin, Australia, to confront him.

Her reluctant guide through the vast, unforgiving terrain of the Northern Territory is Drover, a rough-hewn cattleman as rugged as Sarah is refined. Their profound mutual dislike is tempered by tragedy when Sarah suddenly finds herself caring for a young half-Aboriginal, half-Caucasian orphan boy, Nullah, adrift in a segregated society that treats him as an outcast.

Meanwhile, Faraway Downs - her ranch - is on the edge of ruin and scheming station manager Neil Fletcher is plotting with cattle baron King Carney to hasten its demise and take over the property themselves.

To save Faraway Downs, Sarah must join forces with Drover and drive 1,500 head of cattle half way across inhospitable terrain. Along with Nullah, they are joined on their quest by a misfit band of ranch hands and homesteaders and a mysterious tribal magic man known as King George.

AustraliaTransformed by the power and beauty of the land and her bond with Nullah, Sarah finally becomes the woman she truly wants to be and her contentious relationship with Drover gives way to respect, admiration and finally love.

But when the sinister machinations of war reach the shores of Australia, Sarah and her unlikely new family are torn apart.

What should have been an emotionally charged, inspiring movie turns out to be merely an interesting, well shot, though at almost three hours long grossly overlong adventure.

The main problem with the film is the slack, predictable script - by no less than four screenwriters including Luhrmann himself - that overemphasises the points it makes.

The movie has its compensations though, in two stunning set pieces- an exciting cattle stampede that is suddenly halted by the Aboriginal man of magic, and a fierce aerial bombardment that brings death and destruction in its wake as well as two creditable performances from Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman as Lady Sarah and Drover.

By Laurence Green


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