Friday, October 02, 2009

Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008)


Hollow, when not offensive – and most of it is offensive. You can’t have an epic sweep without a narrative sweep, and you can’t mount narrative sweep around characters that are a half-assed mangle of a hundred vague stereotypes.

Baz Luhrmann reaches for a depth he previously never attempted and, if there is mercy in the world, never will again. He has no interest in people beyond costumes and hairstyles. So Nicole Kidman squeaks and glowers away any respect for her career choices you may have had (though, you may have heard, her forehead is hypnotically still); while Hugh Jackman’s brooding-Crocodile-Dundee act gets very tedious very quickly, but when he tries out some earnest emoting, you can’t wait for him to shift back to the tedious brooding. The Aboriginals in the cast pop up whenever the plot needs them to summon the kind of magical powers which the movies have taught us are inborn to all exotic natives, and at least one of them has to die purely to clear the way for a woman with nicer hair and an alabaster forehead to adopt her child. And we mustn’t forget to mention the Chinaman named Sing Song whose entire plot function is to talk funny and struggle to ride a horse (cause, you know, Chinamen don’t really know how).

The film doesn’t work as a spectacle either. The Outback has been colour-graded to shit, and since he can’t stage a coherent setpiece, Luhrmann hopes to distract you with excessive CGI and misguided jump cuts.

And the dialogue! Oh, boy, the dialogue! Beyond the various ‘Crikey!’s and ‘Yaay Drover!’s and ‘Yaay, Missus Boss!’s, beyond the bastardised Aussie brogues and gratuitous billabong references, Luhrmann and his crew decide to cap off the film’s emotional peak with a true pearl: A priest asks a random larrikin to give a brood of mixed-blood orphans a ride to civilisation; with beguiling cheer, the larrikin replies, “Ho ho, I’m not Jesus Christ, but I’ll give it my best shot!” You have to marvel at a line like that surviving countless drafts and alternate endings to stay in the final cut.

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