Luhrman’s “Australia”

Finally saw “Australia” last night. My wife and I made a special trip to Cairns to see it for our 23rd wedding anniversary. We both liked the movie. The cinematography, especially the opening scenes, was wonderful. The story line had a bit of everything – drew some adrenaline, more than a little anger, a few laughs, and, I must admit, a few tears. However the movie suffered on a few fronts. At about the 2 hour mark, almost simultaneously, my wife and I stirred in our seats and declared, ‘This is a bit long’. I think the problem lay with the script as a whole. This is a story that uses a real event (the bombing of Darwin during WWII, and a real situation (the removal of Aboriginal-white mix children from their Aboriginal mothers), to provide an environment for an old ‘western’ genre formula about a tyrannical wealthy landowner doing every nasty deed to extort another landowner out of their property. A mischief which is continually thwarted by the handsome rugged ‘drifter’ until ultimately, – well I won’t give the ending away. This genre then applied a heavy dose of magical thinking around the role of ‘kadaitjcha’ men in Aboriginal culture. The main characters were disappointingly caricturised, pointing to a lack of real experience by the script writers about the ‘pommies’ (English) who did come to Australia over the 20th Century and the international experience of wealthy Australians and that relationship with their English counterparts. This left the characters in very 2-d form. I think a rewrite of the whole script, filling out the characters, letting the story tell itself (scrap the written narration), editing out some aspects eg the issue around the boy evading police and the death of ‘daisy’ could have been much reduced or written out, humanising the ‘kadiatjcha’ man character (a problem in itself with the lack of understanding about ‘normal’ traditional Aboriginal life in Australia). In some ways, the tyrant in the movie almost pulled it off, with some real displays of anger, desperation, understated menace. But overall it was a bit ‘fairy-flossed’. Thank god for Brandon Walters who gave us some of the best laughs and was a real delight to watch on screen, although his cuteness was just a bit stretched out.
I recommend “Australia” as a pretty good romp. I think the future of Australian historical stories can be benchmarked against “Australia” for what it failed to bring. Any movies which mimic this and don’t go that extra distance in providing ‘thicker’ story, deserve to die at the box office.

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