(This post originally appeared on March 14, 2009)
This movie is a good example of how out of sync I am with the critical establishment (and most of the viewing public, too, for that matter). It was roundly panned, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Yes, it’s hokey. Yes, it’s extremely predictable. I don’t care. It worked for me. That’s probably because it’s the sort of big, historical soap opera that I used to write for various book packagers.
Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, an English noblewoman who arrives in Australia in 1939 to visit her husband’s cattle station, only to find that her husband has been murdered and the local cattle baron had his greedy eye on the station. Her only ally is the mysterious Drover (Hugh Jackman), who helps her save the ranch . . . I mean the cattle station. Nah, hell, I mean the ranch, because the first half of this movie is pure Western. It’s the John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara movie that the Duke and Maureen never made. I’m sure James Edward Grant could have come up with some reason for an American cowboy to be in Australia. I knew everything that was going to happen, right down to the way many of the scenes were staged. The only real difference is that there’s a little Aboriginal mysticism thrown in.
The second half of the movie turns into a World War II epic, as the Japanese attack northern Australia, but that’s all right with me because I like World War II movies, too. It’s slightly less predictable than the Western half, but only slightly. Stuff blows up. Heartstrings are tugged. Bad guys get their comeuppance. What’s not to like?
Some critics even blasted the look of the film. The colors are too bright, they said. Well, why wouldn’t they be bright? This is a Fifties Technicolor movie, a big, sweeping, melodramatic potboiler. Why criticize a movie for being exactly what it sets out to be? I’m not saying that AUSTRALIA is a great film, but it’s nearly three hours long and I was wide awake the whole time. Take that for what it’s worth. AUSTRALIA is as old-fashioned as a movie can get, and sometimes that’s just what I want.
TWENTIETH CENTURY WESTERN WRITERS
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