(out of 5)
Stuck-up British aristocrat Nicole Kidman arrives in Australia to inquire after the husband she amicably separated from years earlier to decide what is to be done with their costly outback ranch. Arriving safely thanks to the assistance of a terribly disrespectful and suspiciously sexy cattle drover (Hugh Jackman), Kidman is devastated to learn that her husband has been murdered and her estate is vulnerable to takeover by the cattle baron (Bryan Brown) who holds the Australian monopoly in their particular business. Kidman and Jackman’s attempts to outwit her unethical competition comprise the first half of the film, which is far more exciting and satisfying than the latter part, when Australia’s involvement in World War II has her, Jackman and the half-aboriginal boy whom she comes to regard with motherly affection fighting to survive. Baz Lurhmann’s epic valentine to his beautiful home country is exciting, gorgeously photographed and appreciably silly. It’s wonderful that the film has such a great sense of humour, even if that very humour robs it of the kind of significance it hopes to achieve as the Gone With The Wind of Oz. Kidman and Jackman have terrific chemistry, and the cast is rounded out by pretty much every notable actor from Down Under outside of Naomi Watts, most notably the marvelous David Wenham as Brown’s treacherous right-hand man. The plot is too familiar to be affecting, even though its inclusion of aboriginal culture is highly appreciated, and as enjoyable as these characters are to spend time with, they never particularly worm their way into your heart. Kidman is a natural for holding the whole thing together, though, and her loopy comedy combined with the awe-inspiring scenery (imagine Out Of Africa set in Australia only without all the feelings) will keep you from regretting the effort.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Cinematography by Mandy Walker
Music by David Hirschfelder
Production Design by Catherine Martin
Costume Design by Catherine Martin