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Australia

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Australia

AustraliaRelease Date: Nov. 26Director: Baz Luhrmann Writer: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert WadeStarring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown, Brandon WaltersStuart Beattie, Baz Luhrmann, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan Studio/Run Time: 20th Century Fox, 176 mins.
Well-mannered lust in the dust
The country's tourism board may have sunk a tidy sum into the picture, but Australia, the return of Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrman, is less a commercial for travel than a plea for tolerance.and simmering love story between Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman is the story of prejudice against half-caste Aboriginal children and, by extension, all of the continent's original residents. But while Luhrman's intent is admirable, he seems to realize that the only way to tell a tale of social consciousness is to wrap it in a fantasy.AustraliaThat's hardly a new thing; Gone With The Wind comes quickly to mind. But Australia ranges through genres like a video-store customer moving from aisle to aisle. Class comedy, Western, broad melodrama and wartime drama all come to bear, rarely at the same time. The goal throughout seems to be recapturing the filmic spirit of the '40s, and at times, the film feels as vintage as intended. But not without cost, as beauty shots often have a queasy Photoshopped sheen, like Lurhmann's crew had to over-polish in the editing room to get the tone he wanted.
Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) arrives in the North Coast town of Darwin in search of her husband, who had been cultivating a cattle business and, she thinks, the local female population. Little does she know that hubby is busy dying in a creek to the south. Engaging the services and eventually the passions of a cattle driver called the Drover (Jackman), Lady Ashley sets out to rebuild her husband's business and, eventually, find a new home in the back country.
That's just the first of three hours. As the romance boils and the film rolls on you'll have to forgive quite a few spots where Luhrmann appears to have shaved segments to avoid bloating to Lawrence of Arabia proportions, as when Lady Ashley and the Drover's cattle drive abruptly cuts to a first-act climax.
But hell, Kidman's recent icy finish thaws, Jackman's physique will probably inspire Twilight-like swooning in some audiences, and their romance works. It's overcooked, sure, but this is melodrama after all. What kills the vibe is ranch manager turned cattle baron Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), presented as the sort of mustache-twirling villain who'd tie Kidman to the rails of a train track if only he had enough rope. There's no grounding moment for Wenham, no humanizing scene where we get to understand his jealousy and power-lust.
On the flip side is newcomer Brandon Walters as Nullah, the half-case Aboriginal child who acts as the glue between Kidman and Jackman. He's no more realistically drawn than Wenham's villain, but he's so damn easy to like. Romance is just a distraction; Nullah is the heart of the movie. The spirit of classic moviemaking blossoms in his climactic moments, to the point where you can almost forgive Luhrmann for making us feel like we had to cross a continent to see them.

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