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Australia

Year: 2008
Production Co: Bazmark Films
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Producer: Baz Luhrmann
Writer: Baz Luhrmann/Stuart Beattie/Richard Flanagan
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brandon Walters, Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Barrett, John Jarratt, Tony Barry, David Gulpilil, Jamie Gulpilil, Barry Otto, Bill Hunter, Jack Thompson, Bruce Spence, Max Cullen
So the most anticipated film in the country arrives after close to two years of obsessive industry and star-watching. I've been taking notice ever since the title was announced and I thought 'that's either too presumptuous and will backfire on Fox and Luhrmann or it'll be so balls-achingly good it'll live up to such a moniker'.

But here's the thing to keep in mind. If you make a movie anywhere in the world and about anything whatsoever that costs upwards of $100 million, you'd better tailor it for American audiences, who still comprise over 50 percent of the takings of any global movie (even though - worringly - as I write this the gross is only just nudging $50m).

As such, it's the same candy-hued picture of Australia we've been selling to the world for at least the last few decades since the original Australian push for US tourism in the 1980s, the days of shrimps on the barbie and Crocodile Dundee.

So if you're from Australia, you'll roll your eyes with every crack of the stockman's whip, every utterance of 'crikey' and every other cliché. You'll question the historical accuracy as the Japanese lay absolute waste to Darwin Pearl Michael Bay style, but if you believe other stories, over a thousand people were killed in wide scale attacks the government of the day suppressed so as not to affect morale in the south.

But Luhrmann achieved exactly what he set out to do. It's no accident Somewhere Over the Rainbow featured so heavily in the narrative - much of the visuals of the film are a love letter to Hollywood's golden age, where the colours and lighting are at times so hyper-real you almost expect a soft focus on the heroine, Sarah Astley (Kidman). The hero, Drover (Jackman) certainly gets his moment, pouring a bucket of water over his rippling muscles in such a contrived pose it's almost a bad Adonis parody.

On the subject, much has been written about the Kidman backlash happening right now, and there's merit to it. Not in a bitchy gossip rag kind of way, but while Kidman and Jackman share some chemistry, Jackman is a female sex fantasy given flesh, all hard body, gruff maleness and machismo. Kidman by contrast has no an inkling nor ounce of sex appeal and despite her beauty she always comes off looking particularly cold. As such - and perhaps not his intention - Luhrmann has made Australia's most expensive chick flick, and not just in the Mills and Boon content but the visual approach.

Because whatever you've heard, this is an expensive romance adventure and nothing more. The plot is quite straightforward. In the early 1940s British aristocrat Astley comes to the remote northwest corner of the country to supervise the sale of a failing cattle station, but finds herself drawn to the people who live in and near it, including the macho Drover and a little half blood aboriginal boy called Nullah.

When she gradually falls in love with both boys and the three start to feel like an erstwhile family, she has to fend off a takeover threat by local cattle baron King Carney (Brown) and his nasty henchman Neil (Wenham). In order to do so, they have to drive the herd across the roof of the country to Darwin where the army is desperate for beef supplies in advance of an anticipated attack by Japan.

When they do so and beat Carney's corruption, ensuring the future of Faraway Downs, the film could conceivably have ended. But (and not that there weren't some sweeping and majestic visuals up until that point) all that 20th Century Fox money had to go somewhere, so we're treated to a thrilling and heart-rending attack by the Japanese air force on Mission Island - where Nullah has been captured and sent as a half caste - and Darwin beyond.

The narrative is straightforward and satisfying, full of thrills, spills and romance, with some spectacular scenery both natural and filmmaking, and to expect more of it as many undoubtedly will (and have) is fairly disingenuous.

What's perhaps most surprising though is the involvement of writers Beattie and Flanagan, neither one of whom I'd associate with such simplistic and (at times) hackneyed material. But in further and more interesting news, I just read while writing this review that Lurhmann is going to be able to claim back up to 40 percent of the production costs from the government after a special deal. Which will ensure he'll be a Hollywood as well as an Australian cultural establishment favourite even if he has charged the Australian public a little over thirty million dollars to make his film.

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