It’s not just Oprah

Posted by · 7:40 am · November 19th, 2008

Looking across the early reviews, I think it’s fair to say that “Australia” has cleared the first hurdle. They’re mixed, for sure — hardly new territory for Baz Luhrmann — but there’s a lot of admiration out there, even within the kvetching. There were a number of voices out there anticipating an outright disaster, but so far, it doesn’t sound like one to me.

The harshest takes so far seem to have been from the Australian press, which isn’t at all surprising. People are more liable to be aggravated by the romanticisation of their own culture than one foreign to them, after all. And “romanticisation” is the operative word here; as with “Moulin Rouge,” one clearly has to buy into Luhrmann’s fanciful stylisation to appreciate the film.

Screen International obviously did, even if they’re a bit winded by it all:

Luhrmann has fearlessly gone for the biggest, lushest goal he could imagine — a romantic, old-fashioned epic to stand beside “Gone With the Wind.” Though it fails to reach such Hollywood heyday heights, “Australia”‘s combination of high adventure, awesome landscapes and panting passions is sure to bring out romance starved adult audiences … If the restless richness becomes somewhat indigestible before the film’s considerable length is reached, that’s part of the Luhrmann package. Who else would dare such excess?

Jackman is the epitome of handsome, untamed individualism: Kidman tempers haughty stridency with a delicate comic playfulness, touching in a scene with young Nullah where she teaches him, with no confidence in her own ability, to sing Over The Rainbow … (Brandon) Walters, aged 12, is perfect as the beautiful, troubled Nullah.

Technically, this is ravishing, from production and costume designs from Catherine Martin to DoP Mandy Walker’s often-majestic footage. Australia is long on digital effects, mostly to good purpose, though some of the wartime Darwin harbour wide shots are wisely held for the briefest of seconds … The soundtrack is a potpourri of heightened effects and soaring musical themes.

The Hollywood Reporter is pretty much on the same page:

A shamelessly melodramatic, often eccentric spectacle with true-blue blockbuster potential … The most expensive Australian film ever made is rousing and passionate. Despite some cringe-making Harlequin Romance moments between homegrown Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, the 1940s-set “Australia” defies all but the most cynical not to get carried away by the force of its grandiose imagery and storytelling.

They also commend the tech credits (obviously) and the performances, suggesting Kidman gives “one of her most engaging performances,” but the highest praise is reserved for Walters:

Enter the film’s breakout star: 13-year-old Brandon Walters, playing young mixed-race boy Nullah. By turns cheeky and heartrending, the limpid-eyed newcomer knits the disparate threads of this sweeping epic together, single-handedly lending this showcase of amplified emotions its true heart.

The Times of London, meanwhile, offers a four-star review, saying the film is rather more complex than it appears to be:

Australia manages, against the odds, to avoid turning into one big sunburnt stereotype about Godzone country. Instead, in what turns out to be a multi-layered story it describes an Australia of the 1940s that is at once compellingly beautiful and breathtakingly cruel.

What gives the film its heart is something else entirely. This is also the story of Nullah (Brandon Walters), a mixed race Aboriginal boy left orphaned by the inhumanity of Australian law … Brandon, 13, was discovered by Lurhmann in his local swimming pool in the West Australian town of Broome and he plays Nullah with a combination of mischief and tragedy that may turn him into the real star of the film, despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that he has never acted before.

Promising stuff. My anticipation for this remains undimmed. Meanwhile, with such across-the-board raves for the youngster’s work, I wonder if Walters might start creeping up a few Best Supporting Actor charts.

→ 8 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

8 responses so far

  • 1 11-19-2008 at 8:18 am

    John said...

    I’m so freaking relieved to see the plentitude of positive reviews so far. I hope they keep up.

  • 2 11-19-2008 at 9:07 am

    Liz said...

    I’m ridiculously excited for this movie, but in the comments sections for the Australian reviews I’ve read, I’ve noticed a lot of scorn sight unseen for the film. I don’t really get that.

    A lot of people seem to be angry that it’s called “Australia.” They seem to think the movie is trying to sum up their entire country, but does anyone actually think that’s the movie’s aim? It seems obvious, from the trailers at least, that it’s just a (fictional) story that takes place in Australia. I don’t see the big deal, but I’m not Australian.

    Do we have any Australians reading? I’d like to hear your perspectives.

  • 3 11-19-2008 at 9:19 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    From what I’ve read, the issue seems to be that the film shows the country from quite a tourist-y angle, which I guess a lot of Australians don’t really relate to.

    I sort of understand where they’re coming from — I occasionally cringe for similar reasons in some South African-set films. Similarly, a lot of Londoners hated “Match Point” because Allen shot in a lot of popular tourist locations that residents rarely frequent — though that’s partly an issue with the non-native filmmaker.

    Still, as Nicole Kidman rather aptly put it, “it’s not the second coming, we’re just having fun.” (Or something to that effect.) Evoking an entire nation in one film is more or less impossible.

    I SO can’t wait for this.

  • 4 11-19-2008 at 9:21 am

    Ivan said...

    I wonder how well Australia will be received by SAG. It can be totally snubbed

    The Dark Knight
    Rachel Getting Married
    Revolutionary Road

    Leonardo DiCaprio/RR
    Richard Jenkins/The Visitor
    Frank Langella/Frost-Nixon
    Sean Penn/Milk
    Mickey Rourke/The Wrestler

    Anne Hathaway/Rachel Getting Married
    Sally Hawkins/Happy-Go-Lucky
    Kristin Scott Thomas/I´ve Loved You So Long
    Meryl Streep/Doubt
    Kate Winslet/RR

    Supporting Actor
    Josh Brolin/Milk
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman/Doubt
    Heath Ledger/The Dark Knight
    Dev Patel/Slumdog Millionaire
    Michael Shannon/RR

    Supporting Actress
    Penelope Cruz/Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    Viola Davis/Doubt
    Rosemarie Dewitt/Rachel Getting Married
    Debra Winger/Rachel Getting Married
    Kate Winslet/The Reader

  • 5 11-19-2008 at 11:34 am

    Rosie said...

    As an Australian I can tell you that the disappointment felt by reviewers and indeed many who have seen the film is that instead of bringing such an interesting aspect of Aus history to light Baz has resorted to stereotypical characters and cliches. Neither of which are really very accurate.
    Crocodile Dundee did much the same thing.
    We thought we might have moved on.
    The outback is a mysterious and awesome place and it looks magnificent on the big screen.
    I just wish that the story of the bombing of Darwin.(which had more bombs fall than Pearl Harbour) had been told by a film maker with more finesse. I can only imagine what a terrific job Weir would’ve done.
    As for the stolen generations, watch “Rabbit Proof Fence” by the fabulous Phil Noyce.
    I’m sure international audiences will embrace the film as it is foreign to them, but just remember how you felt when you saw “Pearl Harbour” in understanding how we have reacted. Though it’s still much better than that dross.

  • 6 11-19-2008 at 12:30 pm

    Rosie said...
    I think this sums it up pretty well.

  • 7 11-19-2008 at 4:08 pm

    Marvin said...

    I’m SO there on Dec. 4 when this opens here. I think I even have the day off!

  • 8 11-20-2008 at 2:30 am

    Drew said...

    I believe Brandon Walters will get a Best
    Supporting Nod. The Academy loves to give a child actor a nod now and then. Of course, no way he would win since another ( deceased) Aussie has this trophy.