Nothing good from down-under flick

By David Orlikoff

Writer-director Baz Luhrmann’s Australia is actually two films. No, it’s not another Grindhouse, but at 165 minutes Luhrmann easily forgets what the heck he is doing, takes a step back and tries again (with the camera still rolling, of course).

Two hours and 45 minutes isn’t inherently too long for a feature film, but it is too long for this feature film. When the main characters accomplish their goals 90 minutes in, only to dust off and have another go at this crazy merry-go-round we call life in the outback, there has got to be some ulterior motive.

What becomes painfully obvious through this slipshod movie is that Luhrmann, either through an unwavering God complex or-I can only imagine-a healthy dose of newly legalized absinthe, takes it as his charge to produce another Titanic. While Luhrmann could hardly have done a worse job reproducing an epic in the traditional form, his obsession is transparent to the viewer and quickly dominates all inquiries surrounding the film.

Starting at the very beginning, a little half-aborigine, “creamie,” boy named Nullah, (Brandon Walters), narrates the story for the audience. This could not be less necessary given the rigid cliches in narrative structure this film seems to worship.

Admittedly, the audience is not always 100 percent clear on every aspect of the film, like when it seems to end only to start up again for no reason whatsoever. But these sections are viewed exclusively without the aid of Nullah’s narration, making the practice superfluous, as well as erroneous. The truer purpose behind this device is likely as a kind of overplayed violin piece, a filmic pied piper leading the audience to various emotional conclusions not justified by the story on screen.

Luhrmann steals specific elements from what are considered epic films in his misguided attempt at reconstitution. The opening of Casablanca is reused here, with Australia in place of Morocco. The inevitable Japanese WWII bombers are both Pearl Harbor and the sinking Titanic. Hugh Jackman’s character, known as The Drover, would have been better cast as Rock Hudson who played the same role with more grace as Ron Kirby in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows back in 1955. The Drover is an outcast who somehow manages to do well for himself in spite of the mutual disdain he shares with the rest of society. He lives the life of a true man working in the outback, his only real concern being not getting contaminated by any feminine energy. He is woefully flat and easily forgettable.

Aside from avoiding discussions of tampons, The Drover’s interests include: one, taking off his shirt; and two, crying manly tears. One scene in particular has Jackman soaping himself down and-just as Sarah, played by Nicole Kidman, pokes her head out from her tent-splashing buckets down over his manly form. The look on Kidman’s face in this scene gives Bozo the Clown legitimacy as an actor.

There are too many flaws in this movie to list here, but the worst offense remains the length. There is a trend in anime of pandering to fans by creating joke episodes, or in some cases entirely new joke series set in the same universe. Australia has elements of this. The first 90 minutes is cartoonish to the point of indecency. It offends both sense and sensibility. The latter 75 minutes are long and overly serious.

If people commend Australia for anything aside from the natural beauty (which is hardly captured here) it will be the message of civil rights surrounding aborigines. To its credit, the film is not entirely racist. It is, however, offensive in its assessment of racism. Australia only retroactively makes the claim that history was bad to these people and contributes zilch to the issues still relevant in Australia in 2008. The naivete with which this thought is articulated begs the question of whether such an obvious statement was actually obvious to Luhrmann. Perhaps he only recently realized this fact and, like a giddy schoolboy, is anxious to tell all his friends. Australia is no fun unless you have a crush on Jackman, (sorry boys, but Kidman keeps her clothes on) and is a detriment to the craft.