Movie offers sweeping cinematography, adventure
Romance develops between rough-hewn drover, stiff English lady
By Anne Kirby
Australia" - the film - chronicles the life and times of people who struggled to survive within the cultural conflcts ignited by the English colonization of Australia. Worst hit were the once nomadic Aborigenes who were all but exterminated as they were driven off their lands by a British power elite that rivaled the American Mafia in greed and a territorial imperative reinforced through brutality and racism.
The meeting ground of this culture clash is embedded in the plight of the "creamy children." These children were the by-products, and unfortunate offspring, born out of the cross-cultural interbreeding between dominant whites and the lower caste aborigines. The "creamy children" symbolized the white domination that characterized the late 1930s and early 1940s in Australia, the period depicted in "Australia." These innocent victims were hunted down, rounded up and hidden away from the public eye, in Catholic missions, as if they had never existed.
Tale of the 'Stolen Generations'
The "Stolen Generations" of mixed-breed children form the focal point of director Baz Luhrmann's "Australia." As with all epic films, "Australia" delineates the triumph of good over evil in a heroic human drama that characterizes the monumental tasks of the few who face evil head on, without fear.
"Australia" is a huge production that includes a musical score that is classically elegant and upbeat with a closing song sung by Elton John. The cinematography is artistic with an opening scene - full of action - that is shot through the lens of a watery pond in the style of an impressionist painting.
It also boasts a cast of bankable actors. Hugh Jackman plays the "rugged outback guy" to Nicole Kidman's "aristocratic English lady," Lady Sarah Ashley.
Take away the costuming and you have Channel Lady meets the Marlboro Man.
Kidman, however, has the brass, beauty, brains and sleek body to carry off the part of an upper-class "boss-woman" who becomes a tough, outback rancher on her own accord. Her determination and experience as an actress is in no way eclipsed by the rising star of younger hunk Hugh Jackman.
Jackman plays the rough-and-tumble, hardened Aussie called "Drover," the nickname he earned as a rugged cattle driver. He is a galvanizing figure in the film. Although at times he veers off course - appearing emotionally lost in his role - his ability to play a tough guy, and simultaneously morph into Cary Grant in a tuxedo, bodes well for his promising career.
An unlikely couple
This unlikely couple come together when Lady Sarah Ashley arrives - fresh off her English estate - in the hot and dusty port of Darwin.
Checking on the rumors about her husband's infidelity, she creates a stir when her Louis Vuitton-like luggage gets tossed about by a couple of drunken Aussies having fun. As her elegant, silk lingerie floats freely across the screen, Drover meets her eyes and forebodingly says, "Welcome to Australia."
All eyes - good and bad - are on this striking English woman who arrives with aristocratic flair.
Once Ashley reaches her husband's sprawling ranch named Faraway Downs - symbolic as it expresses the mood of the place - she discovers the body of her dead husband laid out in the front parlor. The ranch is in utter disarray.
Her move also brings her and Drover together in a relationship of convenience, which through struggle, deepens into lust and then love as the two come to grips with their own, unresloved emotions lying behind their uptight facades of pride and toughness.
As Ashley confronts her murdered husband's death, she discovers a deceptive plot schemed up by, Carney, who is an evil and powerful cattle broker played by Bryan Brown. Carney and Lord Ashley's operations ranch manger, Fletcher (played by David Wehan) have been surreptiously stealing her husband's cattle in an attempt to take down Lord Ashley down with him his ranch, the one large remaining tract in Northern Australia not yet controlled by Carney.
Lady Ashley is not to be deceived. Once aware of Carney's plan, she convinces the unwilling "Drover" - tempting him with a coveted breeding horse - into managing the ranch's operations.
In this one decisive moment, Ashley sets into motion an epic struggle that places her at the midst of Australia's culture clash.
Her move also brings her closer to Drover in a relationship of convenience, which through struggle, deepens into lust and then love as the two come grips with their own, unresloved emotions lying behind their uptight facades of pride and toughness.
On the advice of Nullah (Brandon Walter), a beautiful and highly spirited "creamy" boy who attracts Ashley's maternal instincts after his own mother dies attempting to save her boy from forced removal to the Catholic missions, Ashley agrees to drive the "big bully cattle" to a "big metal boat" that will transport the cattle to market, save the ranch and beat Carney at his own game.
Heading for Nullah's 'big metal boat'
Together Lady Ashley, Drover and Nullah set out against all odds, looking very much like a happy family. Wth a 2,000- strong herd of cattle, they begin crossing the rugged northern terrrain that leads to Nullah's metal boat.
Nullah is filled with a deep, spiritual, aboriginal respect for life and nature that places him in stark contrast to the darkness that pervades Carney and Fletcher. Walter's performance is riveting and magical as he grows into a wizened soothsayer. Led by his grandfather - an aboriginal spiritual leader named King George (David Gulpilil) - Nullah receives his spiritual messages that are sung to him from his grandfather's perch atop high mountains.
With King George in the background, Nullah refines his aboriginal inheritance singing to Drover, Ashley, the cattle and a small group of ranch hands the guidance that leads them through the treacherous terrain of mountains and wide open land tracts with cliffs that appear out of nowhere.
Director Baz Luhrmann also shows the struggle that Drover, Ashley and Nullah face as they race against time, besieged by Carney's people who succeed in forcing the cattle party into a detour that leads them across a desert whose heat spells imminent death.
Baz Luhrmann's panoramic and sweeping aerial views of this territory are magnificent. Picturing an unforgiving, ruggedly rocky terrain, Luhrmann captures the magic of starlit nights amidst ruddy, orange and golden brown mountainsides and wide mesas that display the vast grandeur of Australia. He also shows the struggle that Drover, Ashley and Nullah face as they race against time, besieged by Carney's people who succeed in forcing the cattle party into a detour leading them across the desert where heat spells imminent death.
With no evidence of the drivers who have coincidentally been reported as dead by local Darwin newspapers, Carney picks up the pen to sign the legal papers establishing his right to becoming the sole local seller of cattle to the British Army, seeking meat to feed the soldiers mustered to fight the Nazis.
At the smae moment, Ashley's cattle stampede into port. Nullah, Drover and Kidman appear and victoriously drive the cattle into the big metal ship. Carney's plans are ruined. In his defeat, Lady Ashley learns how to let go of her pretentiousness.
As if this were not enough of an epic - one wonders if Luhrmann set out to top "Out Of Africa" - the movie continues on to another climax, the horrible Japanese bombings of Darwin.
This part is based on an actual event, but for the film it manages to define Nullah's destiny as an aborigine and Lady Ashley's and Drover's love for one another.
The segment is the extra hour that many who have seen the movie have been complaining about.
But sitting through this movie was a triumph in itself, and somehow the epic remains in my mind as a film well worth viewing.