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Australian epic’s charisma saves prolonged plot

Baz Luhrmann’s done it again, but this time around, he decided to tackle his mother country.

Australia is exactly what the ambitious director could not accomplisuh with Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge!. While CGI still makes its often unneeded appearance in this outback adventure and melodrama abounds, Australia somehow manages to stay afloat among too many ideas and filmmaking zeal.

The film takes place in, you guessed it, Australia, complete with Aborigines and the beautiful Down Under landscape in the pre-WWII era. The tale begins with uppity Englishwoman, Lady Sarah Ashley (as played by Moulin Rouge!‘s Nicole Kidman), who decides to fly to Australia in order to whip her adulterous husband into shape. Lord Ashley is the owner of Faraway Downs, one of the last pieces of land in northern Australia not yet owned by Mr. Carney, the continent’s richest cattle owner.

Upon her arrival in the dusty, convict-infested land, Lady Sarah comes face to face with the simply named Drover, her guide as appointed by her husband. While Lady Sarah primps and shrieks at the Drover’s rough attitude, the females in the audience swooned and cheered – understandable, as Hugh Jackman played the perfect Aussie cattle driver.

The two immediately take a dislike to each other, but must band together to save the Ashley land from Carney and his henchmen. They, along with their Aboriginal companions, must instigate a cattle drive to the Darwin port if they hope to keep their land. Lady Sarah, not too concerned with the murder of her husband, begins a romance with the Drover while they face the Australian wild together.

After such an involved story, some might expect the end credits as the following scene. A word to the wise: save some popcorn for the WWII arc of the tale.

When the director says an epic, he means an epic. Things seem dandy for the two new lovers as they begin their lives on the ranch. Lady Sarah bonds with the recently orphaned half-white, half-Aboriginal boy, Nullah, who narrates the movie and is targeted by the “coppers” intent on “taking the black out of him.”

The feel-good ending finally takes place after a dramatic finale of Japanese bombers, an island rescue and Lady Sarah’s and Drover’s happily ever after.

If this sounds like too much plot, that is because this movie tried to force too much into a story that could have been cut-and-dry – and still highly successful. Luhrmann tried to create a lush tale of sweeping plot arcs. I suspect he wished to attack the movie as a broad scope of pre WWII life in Australia. Instead, the story seemed forced and contrived rather than sweeping and majestic.

Despite the lengthiness and unrestrained schematics, Australia somehow manages to stay afloat. Perhaps it is Nullah’s shaman grandfather, King George (David Gulpilil), appearing at various altitudes standing on one leg and summoning magic to propel the movie along. Maybe it was the gratuitous half-naked Hugh Jackman. Perhaps it was simply the amazing passion with which Lurhmann tames the beauty of his home continent.

Whatever the reason, I never found myself bored. What Australia lacks in focus and character development it makes up for in pure adventure and giggly romantic cliches. Whenever I expected the movie to wheeze out and die, Nullah’s extraordinary narration or a particularly edge-of-your-seat moment buoyed the film.

For those with a few hours to kill, check out Australia. The movie is still playing at most local theaters. For show times, visit Fandango. For more movie reviews, visit Trent Souza’s Dec. 2 article, Bond flick busts big screen.

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