Baz Luhrmann’s movie, Australia

I doubt that I would be able to sit through Baz Luhrmann’s movie Australia without cringing or simply walking out. Julian Glover in The Guardian calls it a “spectacularly bloated film—a project so immodest that it has been named after the country it claims to describe.”

Which is just the point. The film does not describe Australia. For starters, it is set 70 years in the past. Its setting is largely rural, and we are a cosmopolitan urban nation. Glover writes:

I have just returned from Sydney, where the film—all sunshine and dust and sweeping shots of the outback—has been greeted with artfully disappointed reviews in the local press, as if writing anything too rude would undermine national pride. Australia is busy constructing cultural self-consciousness in a way Gordon Brown would love, and the film is part of that. When it reaches cinemas in Britain, after Christmas, there will be a huge attempt to sell the call of the Aussie outback to tourists, even though very few modern Australians now live there, and those who do are mostly overlooked by the suburban majority.

It seems a pity that a nation would want to define itself around a sloshy love story between a posh Englishwoman, played by Kidman, and a sweaty, bearded cattle drover

Well actually, Mr Glover, this Australian, along with, I suspect, most Australians, has no desire that our country be defined in such a way; in fact I resent it.

—but where does national self-definition end and facile stereotyping begin? Imagine Belgium, the Movie (he spoke Flemish and she ate waffles); or queuing in the rain to see Britain, the Blockbuster (the trains were late but his love survived).

Anne Barrowlcough in The Times is more forgiving.

It has every Australian cliché you could hope for, from kangaroos and Nicole Kidman to aborigines going walkabout and, yep, Waltzing Matilda. There is even, within moments of the opening scenes, Rolf Harris’s wobble board.

But Baz Luhrmann’s long-awaited, and over-budget epic 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.

Fiona Williams of SBS says

the film falls short of unrealistic expectations. … Given the weight of expectation and the hefty price tag, I’d like to deliver a more ringing endorsement than “it’s not awful” … emulating films of a bygone era isn’t enough to create a modern classic … it is difficult to feel moved by a film that is so artificial.

Urban cinefile likes it (more or less). Bonnie Malkin says in The Telegraph

Local critics had worried that the much-anticipated film Australia would present to the world a series of time-honoured Antipodean clich”s. Their fears were well founded.

Marc Fennell gives it 3/5 on Radio Triple J

The movie that’s supposed to save the Australian film industry, rescue Nicole Kidman’s career, justify Baz Luhrmans monolithic ego, heal the Stolen Generation, cure cancer, slice bread, place man on the moon and improve upon the basic orgasm …

… The whole thing smacks of a movie that was half written, shot, reshot, rewritten, then reshot again then rewritten, reshot, redited, rewritten and then reshot and redited a final time … then they watched it once more and decided to spend $20 million on blowing up Darwin and hearding some CGI cows off a cliff. That said, there are some truly stunning cinematic moments … But almost none of it flows and fits together. Some parts are large and majestic, then it’ll become cartoony. A bit of high-camp I can enjoy but, almost every 30 minutes on the dot the movie will stop to show us a bunch of Tourism Australia landscape shots.

The plot’s key turning points have either too much or not enough emphasis and are often in the wrong spot. The whole last half of the movie (The Bombing of Darwin and so on) could easily have been shifted earlier for a punchier, more wrenching ending. Like I said, this movie wasn’t written it was re-written. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the amount of CGI used. The movie is filled with scenes that were half filmed on location, half on green-screen as reshoots. It’s not that Baz has bitten off more than he can chew, it’s that he’s bitten off more than he SHOULD’VE chewed and then pigheadedly insisted on munching through it all, even if it does take 2 hrs and 45 minutes.

… Finally though, if you want a new drinking game … take a shot every time someone says ‘Crikey’. I guarantee you’ll be too hammered to notice the movie’s glaring flaws, and instead soak up the sheer glory of watching Baz snort his own ego through a wide-angle lens.

Usually reliable critic, David Stratton in The Australian is more generous than most.

I have to say, there’s a lot of clichés in the script, a lot of familiar elements from other films of the past … and it’s as though the film is aimed at not so much an Australian audience but an international audience, and especially an American audience.

I think probably it has the potential to be quite successful in America because it is, I think for Australians, a rather simplistic view of this whole period. It’s the sort of film where if you make a point about half-caste Aboriginals in the first 10 minutes you have to restate exactly the same point another couple of hours further on.

The film is not without flaws, it’s not the masterpiece that we were hoping for, but I think you could say that it’s a very good film in many ways. While it will be very popular with many people I think there’s a slight air of disappointment after it all. But I will say that the acting is of a very high level, especially given that some of the actors have been encouraged to perform in this rather stylised, theatrical way.

… Despite its flaws—and it certainly has flaws—I think Australia is an impressive and important film, and if I were to give it a star rating I would give it three and a half out of five.

Finally, Jim Schembri in the in the SMH:

… the anxiously anticipated Australia is not a bad film. But it’s far from a great one, and certainly not one destined to be a classic. The film is fine, and never boring but, boy, is it overlong … at a mammoth 165 minutes it feels too much like a work-in-progress. There is a lot of narrative flab and longueurs in the first two hours and the film often has the pace of a steamroller with engine trouble. … Luhrmann also seems so eager to trowel on the Aussie clichés … that Australia is often simply irritating.

Certainly, I find it irritating that any film maker should presume to call any movie by the name of our nation, let alone a film as full of out of date cliché as this one apparently is. Pass.