An English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) travels down to her husband’s declining cattle station in northern Australia only to find him dead, murdered. When she discovers that his manager (David Wenham) has been stealing their cattle for a rival company, she fires him and sets about restoring Faraway Downs herself. Along the way she enlists the help of locals like Drover (Hugh Jackman), eventually falling in love with them and the country.
Australia runs for a length of 165 minutes, making it the longest flick I’ve watched since last month’s Braveheart (1995). I found it difficult to follow at first (partly because of their accents), but things soon got underway. It’s basically a two-part movie in one. The first half is a typical romantic adventure: the hero and heroine fall for each other, overcome challenges, defeat the bad guy, and live happily ever after—a family movie if I’ve ever seen one. But it’s not all bad. Alternating landscapes of lush, active wildlife and rugged rock formations pepper this part, providing a fitting backdrop for scenes worthy of an adrenaline rush. The second half is a lot better, more mature. It makes pointed commentaries about war, religion, and racism—filtered through the main characters’ story, of course, but still a welcome reprieve from the first part’s sappy romance.
Essentially an epic drama-adventure story with a happy ending, Australia is far cry from Baz Luhrmann’s earlier success Moulin Rouge! (2001). Clear divisions of good and evil run throughout the film, and the characters are so familiarly one-dimensional they all feel like they can be summarized in a single word. Plus I didn’t like the movie’s portrayal of the locals: the aborigines felt too exoticized, their plight over-sentimentalized (except for the part about them having the right to lead their own lives and preserve their own stories, which I think was just right). It’s not so bad for one sitting—albeit a three-hour one—but it’s not something I would watch again.
‘In the end the only thing you really own is your story.’
‘Well I will have you know, I am as capable as any man.’
‘A lady never knows what she might need.’
‘We gotta get those fat cheeky bulls into that big bloody metal ship!’
‘She deserves a drink like any man.’
‘Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be.’
‘Pride’s not power.’
‘I sing you to me.’