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Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Hugh Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Bryan Brown, Damian Bradford, Nathin Butler, Tara Carpenter, Rebecca Chatfield, Lillian Crombie

Ricardo Barberini

December 12, 2008


If you have ever seen, and who hasn’t,  a Western about a cattle drive north from the arid lands of Texas to the Abilene cattle railhead, you have seen this movie before.  It has all the elements of an American Western; the seemingly helpless but determined city woman who inherits a vast ranch in the middle of nowhere, a gruff foreman who becomes her lover, a ruthless vicious robber baron who wants to be the king of the beef business and even a drunk rancher who gives up drinking and sacrifices his life.  It is all here. Instead of Texas, it is Northern Australia and Abilene is replaced by the port of Darwin.  An Aborigine magic man takes that place of a good Indian chief/ witch doctor

That is not to say that the story is not engaging or interesting but it goes on for far too long.

The story, set between 1939 and 1941, is about an impatient stuffy upper class woman, Lady Sarah Ashley played by Nicole Kidman who goes to Australia to find out why her husband is so hesitant in selling the family ranch and come back to England.  On her arrival she discovers that her husband has been murdered by an Aborigine spear.  The gullible territorial police constable and a cruel and scheming  foreman, Neil Fletcher played by David Wenham, blame an old Aborigine witch doctor who spends most of his time on a nearby hill chanting away ancient native songs.  By the way, the brutal foreman Neil Fletcher has a young half breed kid named Nullah (Brandon Walters)  who is also our narrator.

Sarah fires the foreman and hires an arrogant stud (Drover) played by Hugh Jackman to take the cattle all the way to Darwin instead of selling it to the cattle baron.  They endure harsh weather, fire, dust and criminal agents of the cattle baron, King Carney played by Bryan Brown, and eventually make it to the big City.  By then, they are in love.  Then things go wrong between them and Drover leaves Sarah.  Finally, there is the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor followed by a sneak attack on Darwin and more deaths, fires and destruction

The movie places much, too much, emphasis on the power of Aborigine magical powers. The writers and the director want us to believe that Aborigines through their rituals had the power to stop rampaging hordes of cows or communicate with each other across great distances.  If that was true, they would not have been so ruthlessly exterminated by the English settlers during the last few centuries.  There is now this nostalgia about something that never was.  As usual, the church is once again the whipping boy being portrayed as an inflexible racist institution, whereas they were trying to do their best, in their opinion, to protect and educate the half breed children.  

Nicole Kidman delivers an adequate performance.  It is probably her best since her appearance in the Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.  Brandon Walters who played Nullah was a genuine drag on the movie.  He was so precocious and way over the top. He did not bestow dignity to the Aborigines but rather made a case for why the white fathers were trying to educate them away from life of nomadism.  The grandfather, King George played by David Galpilil  however, displayed the pride and the integrity of a dying race brilliantly.  Hugh Jackman is just another jock who is making hay while the sun shines.  With hardly any acting abilities, he is reduced to displaying his bare biceps and hairy chest.  Some women and men will swoon over that, we guess!

Baz Luhrman who directed and co-wrote this movie also made the Moulin Rouge with Nicole Kidman in 2001. He has not directed a movie since then.  One wonders why?  With such a hackneyed trite story, even a second year community college film student could have done just as good a job.

We give this movie starstar.  It is fair family fun to watch but don’t be disappointed if you would feel that you have seen the movie before in some other context.

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