Australia (Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown, Brandon Walters) — I thought I was going to see a historical drama about the taming of this great continent/country, its struggle for independence, and its emergence as a leader on the world stage.  Wrong!  Australian director/writer/producer Baz Luhrman’s (Moulin Rouge, Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet) almost-epic is a 165-minute combination western, love story and morality tale set at the onset of World War II.  Set in Australia’s northwest, rich in its Aborigine history and its breathtaking scenery, Australia the movie has characters as stereotyped as the rich cattle baron (Bryan Brown) and his evil son-in-law, the loner cattle driver, the aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) visiting the rustic country, the drunk with a heart, and the cute kid (Brandon Walters) who knows his destiny.  Featuring Aussies in every major role, Australia is a fine film with magnificent photography, exceptional pacing, impeccable acting, and a compelling plot.  What keeps it from being a classic is its lack of originality.  At each point when it can stray from tradition, it delivers just what you expect.  In some ways, that is comforting to the audience.  But unlike a western like Appaloosa or a love story like Gone With the Wind or a morality tale like UnforgivenAustralia won’t leave you with memorable moments.  It left me impressed with the scope, the acting, the direction and the sets but not an emotional loyalty.  Absent the depth, it most reminded me of There Will Be Blood, a western/morality tale.  Two true-blue Aussies, Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley, and Hugh Jackman, as Drover, light up the screen.  They are not only beautiful people — both now about 40 — but they are fantastic actors who never compromise their characters yet show emotional depth.  Not many actors can dominate a screen for more than two-and-a-half hours and not begin to grate on the audience.  I highly recommend this film, provided you are prepared not to see the history of a country but rather fiction set in the Outback.


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