Movie News & Reviews

A continent-size waste of time

Sometimes, when a movie as grand and long and sweeping and long and epic and long as "Australia" comes along, one can't help but point out how, um, extended it is as a film.

At a whopping 165 minutes (I still believe it's longer), with a $130 million price tag, you almost expect for the entire history of the continent to be laid out during this feature presentation. But you don't really get that.

What you do get is a bloated, overstuffed movie that doesn't know what it wants to be -- and it kinda wastes a lot of time trying to figure that out.

At first, we expect that it's going to be a Baz Luhrmann film. After all, he is the guy who directed this. The first frenetically edited half-hour alone is quite Luhrmann-esque, as he introduces Nicole Kidman, slapping on an uppity British accent as Lady Sarah Ashley, an aristocratic dame who heads to Australia in 1939 to deal with Faraway Downs, the cattle station she has inherited.

She gets driven to the ranch by the coarse, ultra-macho Drover (Hugh Jackman), who immediately sparks up a contentious, oil-and-water relationship with the Lady.

Eventually, the movie becomes a straight-faced Western, as Ashley and Drover, along with a ragtag crew of cattle drivers, guide cattle across the Australian terrain to compete with the resident powerful cattle baron (Bryan Brown -- where has he been?) and his despicable right-hand man (David Wenham).

This part of the movie is somewhat bearable, but then the movie jumps genres again.

The third act has "Australia" switching over to war-melodrama territory as Japanese bombs drop over the city of Darwin and Ashley and Drover (now a couple) try to survive amid the chaos.

It's quite obvious what Luhrmann is trying to do here. With his usual can't-stop-won't-stop aggressiveness, Luhrmann opts to be an epic filmmaker in the same vein as David Lean and John Ford. And the movie seems to be a mashup of both directors' most memorable moments.

Unfortunately, Luhrmann has something that prevents him from being as brilliant as those two: attention-deficit disorder.

"Australia" bounces through so many moods, piling so many things into its central story, I'm still having a hard time explaining all of this in a nutshell. (And I haven't even mentioned the Aboriginal boy who narrates the movie and represents the mixed-race children -- or "stolen generations" -- who were taken from their families and forced to live in white society.)

With "Australia," Luhrmann tries to temper his unruliness as a director. But he just finds a bigger canvas to go bugnuts crazy all over.

When a movie keeps you, let's just say, preoccupied (hostage seems too harsh a word) for several hours, morphing into other films all the while, you may just end up wishing for the movie to end -- which is what I did.

Even with Kidman's elegant daffiness and Jackman's rugged handsomeness on display, sitting through that for nearly three hours can take its toll on anybody. At one point, I even said to myself, "I'm gonna grow old and die in this theater, aren't I?" Don't be surprised it you find yourself saying the same thing.