Directed by: Baz Lurhmann
Written by:Stuart Beattie, Baz Lurhmann, Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil, Ben Mendelsohn, Brandon Walters, Barry Otto
Released: November 26, 2008
Grade: A

Australia is a very “theatrical” movie.  That’s the best word I can think of.  What I’m trying to say is that everything about it is extravagant.  The sets, the locations, the acting, the dialogue, the music… well, hopefully you get the picture.  It felt like I was sitting in a packed playhouse while watching a classic story unfold on stage.  It is an epic in every sense of the word.

Based on some of the early critics’ reviews, this style hasn’t gone down well with everyone.  I guess I can understand where they’re coming from.  Perhaps if I was in a different mood, I too might have thought it all a bit over-the-top and a little fanciful.  I’m glad I liked it though.  This is why we go to the movies, isn’t it?  To be transported into a different world and to be told a story that captures our imagination.

The movie is close to three hours long but there’s hardly a dull moment.  The story begins in 1939 with Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) setting foot on Australian soil for the first time.  She has travelled from England to convince her husband to return home.  He has been operating a cattle farm called Faraway Downs in the remote outback and appears to be enjoying it far more than Lady Ashley would have liked.

After her plane lands in Darwin, Lady Ashley goes in search of a man known simply as the Drover (Jackman).  She has been told that he will drive her to the farm.  These two differing individuals meet in humorous circumstances outside the hotel in the centre of town.  This grand introduction sets the tone for the rest of the film.

When they arrive at Faraway Downs, Lady Ashley learns that her husband has died.  He was found with a spear in his chest at the nearby billabong.  The police believe the man responsible was King George, a mysterious Aborigine who roams the outback.  Given the circumstances, most of the locals believe that Lady Ashley will sell the farm and return to her life in England.

They are wrong.  Lady Ashley soon learns the Australian way of life and the importance of her arrival.  King Carney (Brown) rules the cattle market and owns every farm in the area… with the exception of Faraway Downs.  When she discovers that Carney’s top man (Wenham) has been stealing the best cattle from her farm, she seeks revenge.  With the help of the Drover, she plans on taking her cattle to the shipping yards and defeating Carney in his bid to win a major supply contract with the Australian military.  It won’t be easy however with Carney’s malicious crew doing their utmost to ensure they don’t reach Darwin.

There’s a story being told within this story and that’s of a young boy named Nullah (Walters).  He is considered by the Government to be a “half-cast” in that he comes from a white father and an Aboriginal mother.  Authorities want Nullah removed from his mother’s care and placed in a foster home so that he can be educated in the white man’s “way of life”.  Lady Ashley considers it outrageous and will do whatever is necessary to protect him.

It’s a little cheesy at times but once I fell in love with the story and its characters, I was hooked.  Baz Lurhmann has done a great job as director and it reminded me of the manner in which he shot Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  All three films look like something from a fairy-tale with their beautiful colourings and visuals.  Lurhmann has captured the essence of the Australian outback and I’m sure Tourism Australia will be keen to promote it.  I also liked the way that Lurhmann weaved in a few references to The Wizard Of Oz (you’ll understand once you’ve seen the movie).

All the performances are great.  Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the prissy Englishwoman who is slowly transformed by Australian culture.  Hugh Jackman is terrific as the “tough as guts” drover who realises that his life is not as complete as he thought.  Perhaps the pick of the bunch is young Brandon Walters who will endear himself to audiences with his politeness and innocence.

There has been much hype for Australia in this country and public expectations will be high.  With a budget of roughly $120m, it is the most expensive Australian film ever made.  It’s not the best movie of the year but it’s impressive nevertheless.