Reviews of movies, music, books and more by David Goody.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Film - Australia

Australia comfortably fits into the tradition of epic films such as Titanic, Pearl Harbour and Gone With The Wind. However whereas these three films concentrated on a single subject - the sinking of the Titanic, the Japanese attack and the American Civil War - Australia attempts seems intent on covering as much Australia history as physically possible.

The film starts with the English Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) taking over a cattle farm in the Australian outback and attempting to run it with assistance from the coarse Drover (Hugh Jackman). This section veers between Once Upon A Time In The West and City Slickers in an uneasy mix of grandeur and slapstick that feels like Norman Wisdom doing La Boheme. This plot strand is dispensed with halfway through to focus on World War 2 and the Japanese attack on Sydney which acts a great excuse for CGI. Strung all the way through the film is a subplot about the 'stolen generation' of mixed race white and aboriginal children who were taken from their families. Finally there are bucket loads of picture postcard shots of the outback to make the Australian tourist board happy after they pitched up a sizeable chunk of the budget.

With all this subject matter to cover the film regularly relies on stereotypes and intensely broad directorial touches. Within the first 10 minutes it is clear that any 'spot the cliche' drinking games undertaken whilst watching the film would result in a fatality for anyone with a constitution lesser than Oliver Reed's.

The actors all try their best with the weird mix of farce and sentimentality they are handed. The film also looks pretty dramatic at times, albeit in a way that leaves you expecting Judith Charmers to enter stage left at any moment, but you are left feeling that the writers and director needed to say "no" to some of the proposed ideas. Maybe Jim Carrey was acting as a consultant on the film while preparing to make Yes Man. The end result is a 6 hour mini series that has been hacked down to half it's length by stripping out all the subtlety and depth whilst lacking the good grace of including a pee break.

The film's energy and eagerness to please mean that it is not a great disaster. Had it been edited down to having a single plot it might have even made for a perfectly agreeable 'lesser film'. As it is you are surprised they didn't try to cover the shipping of convicts out to Australia before the credits and bung in a tribute to Shane Warne at the end.

Baz Luhramnn has always undertaken ambitious projects in his time in cinema so it's inevitable that he would overreach at some point. In the end Australia is the sound of 100 recently spinning plates crashing to the ground. However approached with reduced expectations and a recently evacuated bladder there is still some pleasure to be had from the wreckage.


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