Early in Baz Luhrmann's Australia, one of the main characters says of his country: "this land has a strange power." And indeed, if one surveys the landscape of films about Australia, many of them (The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Proposition) seem to express this sentiment: Australia is a nation of strange, captivating, haunting power. In his epic film about his native country, Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) affirms and exaggerates this Australian mythos, to spectacular effect. Indeed, his impressively rendered film has a "strange power" of its own.
This is a film of great ambition and artistic audacity. That the title is simply Australia tips us off to the intentions of Luhrmann: not necessarily to make the definitive film about the complicated country/continent, but to provide an over-the-top, grandiose, slightly-irreverent-but-ultimately-sincere explosion of cinema that hearkens back to the golden age of Hollywood epics.
Fittingly set in the late 1930s/early '40s (the Hollywood era it most recalls), as WWII encroaches on its northern coast, Australia has a relatively simple story for a film of such scope (and formidable length). It follows the prim, parasol-toting aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), as she comes to Australia from England to check in on her husband, who owns and runs the Faraway Downs cattle ranch in Northern Australia. Ashley finds her husband dead under suspicious circumstances, his ranch under threat of seizure by a rival cattle company. She enlists the help of a dashing, rugged cattle driver named Drover (Hugh Jackman), as well as the aboriginal helpers on the ranch, to keep Faraway Downs afloat and competitive in the wartime beef market. She forges a special connection with a young ...1