Saturday, December 20, 2008

AUSTRALIA - Luhrmann's 'Lady And The Tramp'

AUSTRALIA (romantic adventure)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Brandon Walters and David Wenham
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Time: 165 mins

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Aussie director Baz Luhrmann got our attention with his 1992 hit 'Strictly Ballroom' and created another buzz in 2001 with 'Moulin Rouge'. This time around, he is making waves with this epic love fantasy which he co-wrote - and starring a cast of mostly Aussie actors.

The catchword here is 'fantasy' because Luhrmann's idea of cinema magic is to sprinkle such 'magic dust' on to the proceedings. Thus his 'Australia' is somewhat like a literal 'The Lady and the Tramp' or 'Sarah In Down Under Land' complete with an aboriginal medicine man as the Wizard of Aus!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Narrated by a half-caste boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), the movie opens in 1939 when Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman, above) journeys from England to the Aussie outback to run a cattle ranch that has fallen into disarray following the death of her husband. Her early attempts are thwarted by
Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), manager of her ranch, and she becomes the rival of 'Beef King' Carney (Bryan Brown), who is trying to monopolise the local beef sales to the armed forces.

Sarah takes a liking to Nullah and takes him under her wing. However, in order to save her ranch, she must move her cattle thousands of miles to Darwin and for that, she needs the help of The Drover (Hugh Jackman), the stereotyped cowboy-hero with whom the leading lady is destined to fall in love with (ho-hum).

The film's second half focuses on Australia's preparations for war after the Pearl Harbour blitz, which invariably affects the relationship among Sarah, Drover and Nullah.

HITS AND MISSES: In the style of epic adventures, one thing that is certain is the wide-scope lensing by Mandy Walker which captures Australia in all its gusts, dust and glory. However, this is no 'Gone With The Wind' and the romance between Sarah and Drover is too lukewarm for us to give a damn. There's a torrid scene of Kidman and Jackman, but alas, it is snipped. In the words of Nullah, it is too much 'wrongside business' and not enough justification for audience involvement.

Acting-wise, the two leads lend more credit to the script than it deserves and the aboriginal cast help to spice it up - especially David Gulpilil as 'King George'. It is evident that Luhrmann wants us to be swept by his passion and vision - but only manages to get our feet, and not our eyes, wet. It works better as a record of the Aussie Government's apology to the aborigines for its shabby treatment during the colonial days.

THE LOWDOWN: Not epic but watchable, nonetheless.


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