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Review: Australia

Set in 1939 during the onset of World War II, this florid melodrama is a major let-down from the Ozzie director Baz Luhrmann, writes Rashid Irani.
By Rashid Irani | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2009 09:14 PM IST

Australia
Cast:
Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman
Direction: Baz Luhrmann
Rating: ** ½

It combines elements of several disparate classics such as Gone With The Wind, Red River and curiously even The Wizard of Oz.

Sorry to say, but this florid melodrama is a major let-down from the Ozzie director Baz Luhrmann, whose resume includes a operatic version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (1996) and the musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge (2001).

His paean, Australia, to his home country, is visually splashy but that’s it. On the downside, the script is far too simplistic and the tempo is sluggish aggravated by the inordinate length of nearly three hours.

Set in 1939 during the onset of World War II, the plot hinges on the trials and tribulations of an aristocratic English woman (Kidman). Arriving at her late husband’s cattle ranch down under, the haughty Brit must overcome the most insurmountable odds. It seems that a land baron and his henchmen want to usurp the property.

Before you can proclaim, “I don’t give a damn”, the widow-in-distress is atop a horse, herding 1500 head of cattle across rugged terrain. She’s accompanied by the family’s drunken accountant (veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson, wasted), a Chinese chef, a couple of aborigines, not to forget a free-spirited cowboy named The Drover (Jackman). Inevitably, a romance ensues between the picture-perfect couple, never mind their initial pangs of hostility.

Also along for the ride is a wide-eyed mixed-race boy (Brandon Walters). One of many such children who were forcibly sent to church missions, they came to be known as ‘The lost generation.’ Here the kid is even utilised to narrate the implausible epic.

To add to the stress-level, war erupts. After a tawdry Pearl Harbour-like aerial attack, the film fizzles out into an incredibly mushy finale.

To be fair, the Australian outback is breathtakingly photographed. Moreover, there is the star presence of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman who, incidentally, landed the role after Russell Crowe backed out of the project.

All said and endured, the $ 100-plus million spectacle just about makes it to the see-grade.

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