Last Saturday, my friend Tiffany and I went to see “Australia.” Though the much-publicized epic has garnered mixed reviews, I ultimately found myself swept away by Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic love letter to one of my most favorite places.
After a slow start that feels as campy as Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” the 2.5 hour tale finds its footing, with the story unfolding through the eyes of Nullah (newcomer Brandon Walters), a young Aboriginal boy.
Set during World War II, “Australia” follows the unlikely romance between English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) and an Aussie cattle Drover (Hugh Jackman). Suddenly widowed and facing bankruptcy, Lady Sarah draws both Drover and Nullah in to saving her husband’s cattle farm, which leads to a complicated, dangerous trek across the Outback.
With lush, sweeping photography of the Northern Territory and lots of dreamy closeups of Kidman and Jackman, Luhrmann evokes films in the grand tradition of “Gone With The Wind.” A key scene that finds Lady Sarah and Drover causing a stir at a high society ball reminded me of Rhett and Scarlett’s scandalous dance at the Atlanta Bazaar in GWTW.
Though “Australia” doesn’t consistently reach those same lofty heights, the chemistry between Kidman and Jackman is enough to make up for it. Jackman has never been more engaging or movie-star handsome and Kidman becomes more sympathetic and vulnerable as the movie progresses. But it is really Brandon Walters who ends up carrying the movie on his more than able young shoulders.
The 11-year-old is a revelation, delivering a powerful, heart wrenching performance that lifts “Australia” well above just another big love story to a tale of abiding connection with one’s country and kin. Nullah’s fate is the film’s lynchpin and the reason I got choked up more than once.
Bottom line, Luhrmann delivers an affecting big-screen epic worthy of the hype that will leave you with a lump in your throat and a desire to explore the majesty of Australia for yourself.