Australia (2008)

Nicole Kidman (Sarah), Hugh Jackman (Drover), David Wenham (Fletcher), Brandon Walters (Nullah)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!)

IMDB Summary: Set in northern Australia before World War II, an English aristocrat who inherits a sprawling ranch reluctantly pacts with a stock-man in order to protect her new property from a takeover plot. As the pair drive 2,000 head of cattle over unforgiving landscape, they experience the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by Japanese forces firsthand.

My love for Moulin Rouge! knows no bounds. Even Nicole Kidman couldn't spoil that film, and without fail, I sob like a baby at the end. "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." *sighs*

Lurhmann's style is very intense and peculiar, resulting in many folks who sit there staring at the screen with WTF!! expressions. Understandable, really. But I happen to love what he does. He suckers viewers in with his manic antics and heaps of ultra-intense colors until SMACK! Pure, gut-wrenching emotion made all the more powerful because of the farcical opening.

Then by all rights, Australia should've kicked romantic melodrama ass. Hugh Jackman built like a damn tank? Check! Sweeping love story across a harsh and war-torn expanse? Check! Baz at the helm of a picture designed to make his country look like the bee's knees of romantic destinations? Check!

Did I mention Hugh Jackman? Check check check!

But no.

Totally didn't work for me. I kept waiting for it, that emotional punch at the end, but maybe Baz doesn't do happy ending as well as tragedies. (Romeo + Juliet choked me up too. Dead lovers! Gah!) Or maybe it was that Nicole Kidman's suitably zany performance in Moulin Rouge!, in which she was a desperate courtesan and aspiring actress, didn't translate to the zaniness of an out-of-her-element aristocrat. Or maybe it was that Hugh Jackman was a parody of hero, rather than a true hero as played by Ewan McGreggor or Leo DiCaprio in their Baz films--boys who mature into men because of love, as opposed to Hugh's fully grown character, Drover, whose stunted emotions never rang true.

No, I think it was Nicole Kidman. And that kid. The boy who played Nullah was fine, but together, he and Kidman did not click. They went from strangers to Daniel Day-Lewis style "I WILL FIND YOU!" devotion in the span of about ten minutes in the middle of a three-hour film. It wasn't authentic, and it certainly wasn't compelling enough to warrant the decisions she makes.

And if this is as my friend Nancy says--a cheeky homage to romance novels, right down to the Harlequin cover sex scene poses--then I found myself missing the big DECLARE. At one point, Drover's mystical black fella brother-in-law says something like, "I bet you haven't even told her you love her." OK, that was true. But do we get the big humbled hero declaration by curtain's close? Nope.

So while I was sticking it out for the surprising, gut-churning conclusion, I just never felt it. Too cartoony, whereas other Lurhmann films have turned the cartoon into art. Could be that he was making a love story to his country more than about two people, or even about a make-shift family, but even that came across as too cliched to elicit emotion. Too bad, because I've been on such an Aussie kick lately...

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