"Australia" *** 1/2 (165 minutes)

Thursday November 20, 2008

Off to another AFI Silver Theater members-only preview for one of this year's most highly anticipated Christmas season releases: Baz Luhrmann's glorious epic homage to Australia and the cinema. What you have here folks are enough motifs to please most any cinemaphile. I mean you got your western; you got your war film; you got your political statement on the ill treatment of the Aboriginals; you got your fantasy; you got your romance; you got your nod to a couple of Hollywood's most cherish masterpieces ("Wizard of Oz" & Gone With the Wind" to name but a few); you got your adventure; you got your luscious cinematography & score; you got your . . . well-you get the picture. In my opinion, Australian film directors and their films are among the best in history. Baz himself has produced 3 other critically acclaimed winners (1994's "Strictly Ballroom", 1996 "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet", & 2001's "Moulin Rouge"). Now comes this wonderful conglomeration that, despite it's length, will never bore and is likely to surprise on multiple levels. The story (Baz wrote the script with Stuart Beattie from Baz's idea) begins in 1939 and is narrated by Mullah (charismatic newcomer Brandon Walters) who has a pivotal role throughout as a prepubescent Aboriginal mixed breed. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) thinks her husband is unfaithful so she embarks to Australia to try and convince him to vacate his ranch and return with her to England. When she arrives, she discovers he's been murdered and that the evil land baron next door, King Carney (Bryan Brown) has been stealing her husband's cattle while also trying to obtain the ranch. To save the ranch, she needs to sell 1,500 cattle and proceeds to enlists the aid of rouge Aussie cowboy, Drover (played by People Mag's newly appointed Sexiest Man Alive Hugh Jackman) to drive the herd northward to the seaport of Darwin. Factor in ex-farmhand Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) who joins forces with Carney after Ashley fires him when she learns that he has been aiding in the thefts. After the cattle drive, the western part of the tale turns into a war movie. The same Japanese planes that bombed Pearl Harbor are now on their way 4 weeks later to do the same to Darwin-which occurs just after the principals arrived. Overseeing the action is Mullah's grandfather, King George (David Gulpilil) whose presence is felt throughout. An interesting tidbit is that Drover was initially offered to Baz's bud Russell Crowe who rejected the offer in 2006 saying he doesn't do "charity work for major studios". The most expensive Australian movie ever made opens nationwide on 11/26.

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