A good old-fashioned epic romance, at long last Australian director Baz Luhrmann tells the entire history of his homeland in a 165-minute saga. Luhrmann is making a style homage here, almost as classic as Far From Heaven. Baz has clearly wanted to make an old-fashioned romance for his native land, and he has done so, including location photography combined with the classic "campfire on a soundstage" look of old movies. There are plenty of outdoor scenes where the lighting is obviously artificial, and my wife thinks a lot of color-adjusting was going on (a la O Brother Where Art Thou)- she noticed one scene in particular where the blue sky was a perfect match for David Wenham's irises. I noticed some special effects in Hugh Jackman's facial hair- at age 39, are we supposed to believe that Hugh's beard is 100% brown? He looked like a three-hour Just For Men For
Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, a headstrong fish out of water, crossing the hemisphere to dispose of her unfaithful husband's cattle ranch. If the premise sounds like a remake of Out Of Africa, you're not alone! Ashley enlists Hugh Jackman's cowboy The Drover, to "drove" 1,500 head of cattle to Darwin to break the monopoly of King Carney and his wicked son (Bryan Brown and David Wenham.) This section feels a bit like City Slickers, but ends before it gets too tedious.
Along the way, Ashley and the Drover become the surrogate parents of Nullah (Brandon Walters), a 10-year-old half-Aboriginal orphan, who acts as the movie's narrator, soul, and the director's proxy for the long legacy of racism and abuse of Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal youths in Australia. Luhrmann tries to tell the entire history of Aboriginals in Australia through Nullah and his family, which mostly works, but sometimes becomes preachy and forced. Walters is a heartbreaking revelation, jerking tears from the audience every time he is separated, then rejoined, with those he loves.
The last third of the movie tells the story of Australia's own Pearl Harbor, a Japanese aerial bombing of Darwin shortly after Pearl Harbor in 1941. While the movie tries to pack in a lot of history, and several lengthy stories into its 165 minutes, the pacing is actually quite brisk, and the editing and cinematography are quite fluid and dynamic. There are lots of effects shots, to include WWII-era ships, planes, etc, but they are rendered with less compulsive perfectionism (see Titanic) and more lyrical impressionism, like you'd see in an old 1950s movie.
Hugh Jackman earned his "Sexiest Man Alive" crown with his portrayal of The Drover, a classic cowboy crossed with Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Whether he was filthy and bearded, shirtless and soapy, or smooth and tuxedo-ed, Jackman had hearts a-twitter throughout the theater. Nicole Kidman somehow managed to stay pale and pristine throughout- she must hold a patent on 1,000 SPF sunblock to remain porcelain throughout a movie set in the Outback!
I certainly enjoyed myself, I was never bored, and I even leaked a few tears in this old-school epic romance. (At the Somerville Theater, the day after Thanksgiving, with my wife, plus Debbie, Kathy, Becca, and Sara)