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FILM REVIEW: Australia

Baz Luhrmann’s new blockbuster is an OK sort of film. It’s no masterpiece and doesn’t deserve to walk off with a haul of Academy Awards in its swag bag next February.
FILM REVIEW: Australia
Baz Luhrmann’s new blockbuster is an OK sort of film. It’s no masterpiece and doesn’t deserve to walk off with a haul of Academy Awards in its swag bag next February. There’s been a great deal of hype, which is always a worry, although my tickets were booked early anyway because I admire the leading lady for her craft. It’s an irony that she plays an English lady in this most Australian of films. She does it well enough, although Hugh Jackman (replacing the awkward Russell Crowe) appears much more at ease in his role and, according to received wisdom, makes something of an impact on female hormones. Their first tentative, then lingering kiss is an erotically charged moment which is played well - it’s just unfortunate that the close-ups do no great favours for Ms Kidman anymore. Brandon Walters, the eleven-year-old English-Aboriginal child, is likely to be the big winner. His role in the toe-curling scene where Kidman attempts to sing Over the Rainbow is masterful and he never fails to impress in his other scenes. I have a problem with the title of this film. It’s no more suitable or appropriate than America would be for Gone with the Wind, or France for Moulin Rouge. Yes, there are some dramatic low-level fly-pasts of rock formations in the desert, set to suitably soaring music, but they might easily have made their way to the cutting room floor without damaging the end result. Indeed, the country is not the star that some were imagining it to be and it’s extremely unlikely that this film will have the same cash register effect on Australia as Lord of the Rings did on New Zealand’s south island. It’s also unlikely to have a positive effect on the Japanese tourism industry. Altogether more dramatic and exciting than the big landscapes were the SFX used to recreate destroyers in wartime Darwin Harbour, but it was definitely a case of blink and you missed it. I just wanted to pause and rewind for a few seconds. It’s during this phase of the two-and-three-quarter-hour film that the two and three-quarter seconds of comic relief are inserted, with great aplomb, but that only left me wishing for more. The film is long, some say too long, but I found it largely unlaboured and didn’t once wonder whether the end was nigh, nor was I aware of any general fidgeting in the cinema. Australia is a wartime romance – a feel-good drama with a hint of foxtrot. If I were scoring out of ten - as so many reviewers like to do - it would make a ‘Len Goodman’ seven. In other words: upper neutral. It doesn’t do any better because, ultimately, it’s a bit superficial: surfaces are scratched, revealing some uncomfortable truths which are not investigated. I came away feeling only slightly disappointed because I wasn’t really expecting to reach for my ‘Bruno Tonioli’ ten anyway.

Gordon Haynes

Monday 5 January, 2009

About the author

An erstwhile applied arts practitioner and teacher, Gordon is an art lover (and buyer) who lives in an Art Deco world. He's a graduate and associate of MCAD and ex-faculty of ECA. One time Chief Landscape Architect at Edinburgh District Council, his designs range from a woodland in Fife to the largest roof garden in Europe and the restoration of Alloa's 'Versailles on the Forth'. Further afield, his portfolio includes a zoo in Nigeria, the green bits of a hotel in Brussels and visualisations for a city extension and reclamation scheme in Beirut. In a move that some called crazy, he relinquished a multi-million pound Millennium Project and fled to the Highlands to run a 1920s lodge as a hotel. He has written for many journals and also written a booklet Glen Moriston: a heritage guide, for the Glenmoriston Heritage Group. He’s been batting at no. 3 for England since about 1957.