Baz Luhrmann's latest epic is a good looking film. However, when the glossy top coat is peeled back, it's clear 'Australia' lacks the substance required from film classics.
Opening in 1939, the film follows English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) as she heads Down Under in a bid to bring her husband home. However, with the mammoth trip behind her, she finds out she's too late and the task of running his ranch and cattle into the profit-land falls into her hands. Cue the boisterous, ruggedly handsome cattle man, Drover (Jackman).
Together they drive the cattle across some of Australia's most beautiful and unrelenting terrain, aiming to arrive in Darwin to fulfil a cattle contract with the British Army. But there is fierce competition from a Northern Territory beef mogul, Carney (Brown), who tries to steal the Lady's new home and livelihood. This first, and better, half of the film provides the backdrop for the serious action as the Japanese prepare to invade Darwin following their attacks on Pearl Harbour.
'Australia' is about four stories in one, which accounts for the 165-minute running time. The film is an epic story of Australia's suffering at the beginning of WWII, a romantic drama, a Western action adventure and a history of the Stolen Generation (Aboriginal and interracial children who were taken from their homes and placed in the missions). There's too much squashed into one film, which is trying, and failing, to be everything all at once.
Luhrmann's take on the cattle drive is a welcome return to Westerns of yore, and the cinematography is superb as he films wide, panning shots of stunning Australian scenery. When the pace and tone change as Mrs Boss (as the Aborigines nickname Ashley) arrives back in Darwin, the film loses momentum.
What were once exciting 'new love' scenes between Jackman and Kidman become mundane and the story involving loveable Aborigine boy Nullah descends into shameless heart plucking. Nothing is sacred in the bid to make us cry, not even 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' from 'The Wizard of Oz', which is churned out time and time again.
There is a touch of 'Carry on Outback' humour about Kidman and Jackman's early scenes. Her husband isn't cold in the grave and she is throwing lustful shapes around Drover. The hamminess reaches a peak at one stage when he pours a brimming jug of water over his naked muscled torso, with her starring wide-eyed at his buff body - granted, it is a difficult sight to ignore. Kidman tries hard to please as the snobbish Brit, a little too hard at times. However, she is amusing upon her arrival in Australia and during her 'The King and I'-style getting-to-know-you interactions with the locals.
The scale of the special effects in the second half of the film is impressive. To blow up an entire city and make it look realistic is no mean feat - even if some of the bombing scenes are a little CGI-heavy.
If 'Australia' has piqued your interest then see it in the cinema as, given the locations and special effects, it's definitely a big screen film.
Luhrmann has created an epic by numbers, ticking all of the required boxes along the route. But in so doing he loses focus, weight and the audience, with a meandering plot and unfulfilled subplots.