Saturday, May 04, 2013
Australia (2008 film)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann and screenplay by Luhrmann, Ronald Harwood, Stuart Beattie, and Richard Flanagan from a story by Luhrmann, Australia is the story of an Englishwoman who travels to Australia to discover her husband’s death as she takes over the cattle business with a help of a drover while taking care of a half-Aborigine boy. Set in the late 1930s to early 1940s during the start of World War II, the film is an epic story of how a woman tries to take control of her destiny while dealing with forces that are trying to stop her as she tries to protect a young boy. Starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Ben Mendelsohn, Jack Thompson, and David Gulpilil. Australia is a grand though underwhelming film from Baz Luhrmann.
The film revolves around a period in time where half-Aborigine children, known as the Stolen Generations, were taken away from their families by the governments of the early 20th Century to be integrated with white societies. Notably as it has a plot revolving around a boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters) who is half-Aborigine where he intrigues an aristocratic Englishwoman in Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) who later becomes the maternal figure he needed following the death of his mother. While she embraces the new world she has arrived into as well as gaining the trust of a hardened yet kind man known as the Drover (Hugh Jackman). She also deals with all sorts of trials and tribulations relating to her burgeoning cattle business as well as witnessing the bombing of Darwin in 1942 where many characters deal with its impact and near-tragedy.
The screenplay that Luhrmann and his co-writers create is very multi-layered with lots of storylines revolving around many characters set in the span of three years from 1939 to 1942. While there are moments in the story that do falter a bit such as the mystery into the death of Lady Ashley’s husband where it is obvious into what really happened. It does play into the arrival of this woman who comes into a land that she has no knowledge about as she is seen as an outsider of sorts. By discovering why her husband went to the Australian outback which involves cattle, she decides to take control by protecting Nullah who had been mistreated by the very cruel Neil Fletcher who had been working for the cattle baron Lesley “King” Carney (Bryan Brown). With the help of the Drover and various other people, the film’s first act is about Lady Ashley’s arrival into Australia and becoming the competition that Carney tries to avoid.
The second act isn’t just about Lady Ashley’s romance with the Drover and the brief happiness she has with him and Nullah but also revelations into her husband’s death and what Aborigine children have to do which also plays into the presence of Nullah’s grandfather King George (David Gulpilil) whom Fletcher claimed had killed Lady Ashley’s husband. The third act takes place in 1942 during World War II where Lady Ashley, the Drover, and Nullah are separated as Nullah was taken to a remote island with other half-Aborigine children as Lady Ashley vows to get him back as she thinks of him as her son. The script does allow its principle characters like Lady Ashley and the Drover to develop where the latter is also an outsider because of his friendship with the Aborigine as he had a wife who was Aborigine.
While some of the ideas about the attitude towards Aborigines at the time is a bit heavy-handed in the story, it does play into the fact that both the Drover and Lady Ashley are outsiders who are willing to do right for those people despite what society thinks. The antagonist in Neil Fletcher is a conniving individual who does have a secret of his own though it is one aspect of the character that doesn’t work where it is also obvious. Still, there is something about Fletcher as he’s character that audiences love to hate as he often spouts the words, “pride is not power”.
Luhrmann’s direction is definitely grand in the way he presents Australia during that time period where it is a mixture of a lot of genres ranging from the sweeping romantic epic, the costume dramas, some comedy, the war film, and elements of the western. It’s a film that is all over the place where it can be called a mess a times but it makes up for as Luhrmann aims to create a film that recalls the epics of the past. Shooting on location in Australia including the Never Never desert in the Outback, Luhrmann uses the locations to present something that is visually-astonishing as well as epic to express how vast the land is. The place itself is just as much as a character of the film as everything else.
There are also moments in the film when Luhrmann knows where he doesn’t need to be extravagant where he does keep things simple in the way the characters interact with each other. Luhrmann does create some shots that are filled with a lot of lively moments and surprises to amp up the romance or the drama including some very harrowing scenes of the Darwin bombings. Though there are bits of the film’s ending which are over-drawn, it does work to reinforce the idea of love and family that the three central characters need from one another. Overall despite some of its messy moments and a few flaws in the story, Luhrmann does create a very worthwhile and engaging film about love and identity.
Cinematographer Mandy Walker does amazing work with the film‘s very gorgeous and colorful cinematography from the look of the rugged landscape with its naturalistic look to the more stylish scenes in some of the interiors and exterior settings in Darwin. Editors Dody Dorn and Michael McCusker do excellent work with the editing as it plays to an air of style with some rhythmic cuts for some of the film’s action moments as well as some montages to help establish a few key moments in the story. Production/costume designer Catherine Martin, with set decorator Beverley Dunn and supervising art director Ian Gracie, does fantastic work with the set pieces to recreate the look of late 1930s Darwin with its bars as well as the home Lady Ashley has in the Outback while the costumes that Martin creates are just beautiful to play up the evolving style of Lady Ashley along with the rugged look of the Drover who also shows that he has a very classy side to himself.
The film’s visual effects by Chris Godfrey does wonderful work with some of the film‘s visual effects for the extravagant Darwin bombing scene as well as a few visual effects shots in the Outback. Sound designer Wayne Pushley does superb work with the sound to capture some of the tense atmosphere in the Outback along with more layered sound work in the Darwin bombing scenes. The film’s music by David Hirschfelder is terrific for its use of sweeping orchestral arrangements and bombast along with some serene moments that includes the use of Somewhere In the Rainbow that becomes a key piece for Nullah and Lady Ashley. The soundtrack consists of music from that period with its mix of jazz, Australian folk, and pop along with new songs by Elton John and Angela Little to play up the sense of adventure and romance in the film.
The casting by Nikki Barrett and Ronna Kress is brilliant as it features a large collective of actors for this film. The film features appearances from Bill Hunter as a skipper, Barry Otto as a government representative overseeing the cattle industry, Ursula Yovich as Nullah’s mother, Ray Barrett as Lady Ashley’s British counsel, Sandy Gore as King Carney’s wife Gloria, Yuen Wah as a Cantonese chef living in Faraway Downs, Jacek Koman as the Faraway Downs saloon keeper Ivan, and Tony Barry as Sgt. Callahan who heads the Northern Territory police unit. Essie Davis is very good as King Carney’s daughter Catherine who is an admirer of Lady Ashley while Jack Thompson is quite funny and excellent as Lady Ashley’s alcoholic accountant Kipling Flynn. David Ngoombujarra is wonderful as the Drover’s brother-in-law Magarri who helps him out while Ben Mendelsohn is terrific as the army officer Captain Dutton who becomes a close ally for Lady Ashley.
David Gulpilil is amazing as the mysterious Aborigine King George who aids Lady Ashley and the Drover through the Outback despite his distrust towards the whites. Bryan Brown is great as the cattle baron King Carney as a man eager to have a monopoly in the cattle industry. Brandon Walters is remarkable as the half-Aborigine boy Nullah who becomes the one person in Lady Ashley’s life to make her stay in Australia as he also helps her become a rich cattle baron. David Wenham is superb as the very slimy and conniving Neil Fletcher who tries to do whatever to bring down Lady Ashley.
Hugh Jackman is marvelous as the Drover as a man who knows Australia better than anyone as he comes off as a very rugged yet stubborn man but also one who is very kind and can become a gentleman. Nicole Kidman is radiant as Lady Sarah Ashley as a woman who arrives to the country as an outsider only to become a more proud and fierce woman eager to lead and become someone not to be messed with. The scenes with Kidman and Jackman are just glorious to watch as the two have great chemistry together as they are among one of the film’s highlights.
Despite some of its shortcomings in its story, Australia is a still a visually-gorgeous and stellar film from Baz Luhrmann. Thanks to the leading performances of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman along with some amazing technical work and a supporting cast. The film is definitely a worthwhile film that has a lot to offer though it is a bit of a mess at times. In the end, Australia is a very good film from Baz Luhrmann.
Baz Luhrmann Films: Strictly Ballroom - William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet - Moulin Rouge - The Great Gatsby (2013 film) - The Auteurs #23: Baz Luhrmann
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