Director Baz Luhrman, with a history of successful reinvention, sets a tale of ravenous romance against a backdrop of frontier Australia, the Stolen Generation, and an encroaching Japanese threat on 1940s Darwin. It’s a giddy, indulgent, pretty-faces-on-pretty-landscapes styled epic with the crosshairs aimed squarely on the romantic grandiose of old Hollywood. The ambition is palpable and the exuberance is endearing, but the film strains so hard to implore a sense of the epic that the result is well overwrought.
Nicole Kidman charms as English Rose, Lady Sarah, giving her role spirit and heart. Also great is her opposite to attract, Hugh Jackman as a manbeast Ocker. But the show is stolen by cheeky, soulful youngen Brandon Walters as Nullah – the “mixed” Aboriginal kid at the centre of the movie’s most intriguing angle: the relationship between Australia’s settlers and Aborigines. There are stunning set pieces and it looks gorgeous too, with CG backdrops used to create a painterly, water-coloured, soundstage aesthetic.
Australia had me for the first hour but by film’s end, too many ideas muddle. There are too many red herrings, too many renditions of ‘Over the Rainbow’ and Hugh Jackman emerges from the mist too many times. It flagrantly repeats itself, and the result feels laboured. While I don’t doubt some will fall head over heels for the film’s sense of romance and high drama, running at over two and half hours, you’ll certainly want to take a cushion. I could’ve done with a sleeping bag.