Tourism Australia may have politely requested ]the kangaroos'] inclusion, with hopes for a tourist revival riding on this $130 million Outback tale, along with what seems like the future of the entire local film industry. If Luhrmann felt the weight of that responsibility, it doesn't show. His "Australia" is much less earnest than the trailer suggests, layered with a thin veneer of camp and a nod and a wink to accompany the requisite Aussie cliches. Having shunned the recent grinding run of bleak suburban micro-dramas, Australians are primed to embrace his monumental magic-realist vision, which honors the country's heritage and celebrates the invigorating majesty of its landscape.
But if it sounds shallow and predictable, Australia is, in fact, anything but. The cliches are saved by little jokes and asides, as if Luhrmann is saying 'Yes, I know, but what can you do?' In an early scene, as the newly-arrived Sarah drives toward her station, Faraway Downs, with Drover, a herd of kangaroo lopes alongside their vehicle. As Sarah “oohs” and “aahs” with melodramatic wonder, a shot rings out and one of the kangaroos falls, killed by an Aboriginal stockman riding, literally, shot gun on the roof of the car. The horrified aristocrat spends the rest of the trip staring at the hind leg of the kangaroo hanging disconsolately over the windscreen, and the trails of blood that trek through the dust on the glass.
The film begins with surprising slapstick and trademark Luhrmann over-the-top humour - a scene featuring Jackman giving himself a bath with a bucket is pure beefcake and proud of it - but settles into a compelling and moving tale which traverses war, race relations, class and the Stolen Generation. It's a movie with a message, but Luhrmann provides the audience with no shortage of thrills, from a cliff hanger cattle stampede to the bombing of Darwin. Kidman and Jackman are perfect together, Jackman's broad speaking drover a perfect foil to Kidman's snooty English rose.
...local films with black themes or major indigenous characters tend to do poorly, so if Australia succeeds here it could represent a breakthrough. We've always had trouble dealing with racial issues on film, so, in that regard, the film could be a landmark. If only Baz had made the damn thing shorter by at least half an hour.