Baz Luhrmann’s films span a variety of styles, from re-imagined Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet) to musicals (Moulin Rouge). Neither of those films, I just mentioned are actually examples of the styles they resemble, but are more like tributes. The purpose of them is to remind you of other, better films. To some this may be the cinematic equivalent of sampling, taking a beat or a refrain from one song and plugging it into another. It shows a lack of imagination to me. Luhrmann doesn’t do the necessary spade work to set up his stories. There’s no characterization, no setting, no theme. He relies on those other movies to provide all that and then he commands over the top performances and sweeping camera moves, hoping you won’t notice.

With Australia, he tackles big Hollywood epics. The bulk of the plot takes place in the Northwest Territory, a dry dusty place for the bulk of the year, and yet beautiful in its way. Pretty pictures are the only thing Australia has going for it. The rest suffers from Luhrmann’s vacuousness as an artist. Nicole Kidman crinkles her cute nose and stomps her feet; Hugh Jackman flexes his abs and rolls his eyes. These are good actors but the only direction they recieve in this thing is “make it bigger.” It’s a complete waste of talent.

Australia didn’t annoy me as much as Moulin Rouge did and in fact if it were about half as long, which it easily could be, I might have counted it as a bit of amusing fluff. But it clocks in at just under three hours and considering that there are no surprises in the plot of this thing, is just excruciating to sit through as these stupid characters play things out to their predictable conclusion.

Really, someone needs to take away Baz Luhrmann’s union card.


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November 2008
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