Pat Young

AUSTRALIA: When a movie takes its title from a continent, you get the impression that it wants to be the kind of epic spectacle generally derived from a James Michener novel. Innovative director Baz Luhrmann’s (MOULIN ROUGE) first film in seven years has such an ambition since it attempts to be an adventure, a war movie and a modern Western driven by the romance between an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) and a rough-around-the-edges cattle herder (Hugh Jackman) from the outback (the desert, not the restaurant). However, when a movie throws in multiple plots and themes, as this one does, it usually means that it’s sorely lacking in one that ties it all together. It’s a fatal flaw of this work in which the main assets are Mandy Walker’s magnificent cinematography that recalled the landscape of Utah’s Monument Valley, which “starred” in many John Ford Westerns (THE SEARCHERS, STAGECOACH) as well as the costumes designed by Catherine Martin, a.k.a. Mrs. Luhrmann. For a love story, there’s precious little chemistry between Jackman (X-MEN) and Kidman (THE HOURS). Especially annoying was a subplot involving an aboriginal child (Brandon Walters) whose mystical powers can prevent stampeding cattle from jumping off a cliff and his mysterious grandfather (David Gulpilil), who materializes from place to place in cringe-inducing sequences that conjure up painful memories of last spring’s JUMPERS. In an attempt to imbue the aborigines characters with spiritual qualities, Luhrmann comes off patronizing them. AUSTRALIA is a pretty movie to look at but ultimately unsatisfying because it’s so intent on identifying with Hollywood’s old adventure/romance classics that it never develops an identity all its own.

MOVIES ABOUT/IN AUSTRALIA THAT WERE MUCH BETTER THAN AUSTRALIA: BREAKER MORANT (1979), THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH (1978), A CRY IN THE DARK (1988), GALLIPOLI (1981), HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994), MURIEL’S WEDDING (1994), MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979), ONCE WERE WARRIORS (1994), SISTER KENNY (1946), THE SUNDOWNERS (1960)