Thursday, November 20, 2008
I have a confession to make. I love period romances. I'm sorry, I just do. While most of them may just have Keira Knightley in common, this film doesn't. Not only is it in a genre I have a soft spot for, but it's the return to film for the great, at least in my opinion, director, Baz Lurhman, famous for such films as Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge, and my personal fave, Romeo + Juliet. Take that pedigree and add a BIG helping of the Outback, and you have one hell of a mixture, and one that you should definitely check out.
In the northern part of Australia, prior to World War II, an English aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), inherits a cattle station the size of Maryland. When English cattle barons plot to take her land, led by "King" Carney, owner of the Carney Cattle Company, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn stock-man to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land. Along with a young mixed race aboriginal boy, Nullah, Lady Ashley and Dover head out to try and make a big cattle sale to the army, only to still face the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.
First off, I would just like to say that Australia is one hell of a beautiful place. I've had the great opportunity to take a roughly month long trip down under, and it has been one of my greatest memories. It's a gorgeous place, and so is this film. I have not seen a film this year that has been this visually epic and just stunning to take in. Cinematographer Mandy Walker deserves some sort of award, and I hope she gets it. The way the frames fill the screen with just absolutely breathtaking visuals of the Outback and then of the bombing of Darwin is something Oscar should eat up.
Speaking of the two different settings, that brings me to another point. Australia may be the first time since The Dark Knight that I have been able to notice a film really containing two separate narratives. First, there is the introduction of and character growth of Lady Ashley. It's mainly set in the Outback, and it is narrated, as the whole film is, by the films true main character, Nullah. Nullah is a young, mixed race, aboriginal boy, who is taught the way of the world by his grandfather, "King George", an aboriginal witch doctor. We also meet Dover, played by Hugh Jackman, and the three, along with a few others, head out to try and make a sale of roughly 1500 head of cattle, before the Carney Cattle Co. can make the same sale, ultimately sending Faraway Downs into ruin.
This is the real heart of the film. Brandon Walters, who portrays Nullah, is a real shocker. He is so innocent, and so pure, that when the crap hits the fan, you really feel for him. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are really great together as well. They have a great chemistry, and it's just fun to watch these two go back and forth. Some of the lines are dry and cliche (more on that in a bit), but it just really worked for me.
The other thing that really surprised me was the quality of the sound design and score of this film. The film is about cattle, and the scenes in which they are stampeding and are being roped into the town, are well done. It's also a war film, and it excels just as much during those scenes. David Hirschfelder did the score, and during the first half of the film, we are introduced to "Over The Rainbow" from the Wizard of Oz, and throughout the film, in a similar way to that of the romance theme from Rome + Juliet, the main notes of that song are brought into many different moments, in many different compositions.
The second half of the film is much more of a war film. I compare it to something like last years hit, and favorite of mine, Atonement. It's very poetic, featuring lots of grandiose filmmaking including some gorgeous tracking shots of Nicole Kidman running through burning streets and a very grey color scheme. The Japanese bomb Darwin, and Nullah has been sent to an island where the church sends the mixed race children, and Dover and Sarah have left each other. This my friends, is where I start to have a few problems.
This film is the epitome of cliche. It's simply Atonement meets The Notebook, and throw in some gorgeous visuals and an Outback setting. It's a basic romance film, featuring some really lacking and often mixed writing, which I blame on the three different screenwriters, including first time writer Richard Flanagan, Diving Bell and The Butterfly scribe Ronald Harwood, and G.I. Joe writer Stuart Beattie, along with Lurhman himself. It just seemed like a really poorly crafted script, that was saved by some stellar performances.
Finally, the film is gorgeous, but the CG effects are often times laughable. The cinematography as I've stated is absolutely stunning, but it's sometimes negated by a few glaring holes, effects wise. It's just as mixed as the screenplay, and the film as a whole. It really is two different films, encompassed by the grandiose filmmaking of Lurhman, and a performance from Brandon Walters, in which a true star will be born.
AUSTRALIA - 8/10
As much as it sounds like I didn't like it, I really had a blast during this film. It's overall mixed, but if you have a chance to take a loved one, who can sit for 165 minutes, please, see this film. It's visually breathtaking, quite funny, and features a couple of really top notch performances. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, and there won't be when this film hits theatres on the 26th.
Sorry for the semi-general review, I just don't want to really give anything away, as this film will not be released for another week...
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