Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 3/20/09

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


So, I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for epics. There's just something about a big, sweeping, dramatic film that instantly appeals to me. Movies with an epic feel rank among my all time favorites, from the historically significant (Saving Private Ryan) to the highly entertaining (Star Wars) to the deeply moving (The Last Samurai) and the all-of-the-above (The Lord of the Rings). That fact goes a long way to explaining my desire to see Australia - not the continent, but the dramatic epic set against the backdrop of the WWII-era northern outback. Heather and I, with her parents in town, rented it this week, and while it's not up there with the films I just mentioned, I still found it a very good movie.

Nicole Kidman stars as Lady Sarah Ashley, a wealthy British aristocrat who travels to Australia to get her husband to sell and close down his failing cattle ranch, Faraway Downs. She's met in Darwin by the rough-and-tumble outback cowboy Drover (Hugh Jackman), who has been hired by Mr. Ashley to bring his wife across the wilderness and to the ranch. Upon arriving, they find Mr. Ashley murdered, with an old Aboriginal shaman as the chief suspect. With the greedy cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) threatening to snuff out his competition and treacherous ranchhand Neil Fletcher running Faraway Downs into the ground, Sarah suddenly finds herself wanting to save the ranch, it's people, and her livelihood by driving the cattle across the outback to market in the hopes of a rich army contract. With the help of Drover and the others - including a half-Aboriginal boy (Brandon Walters) Sarah takes under her wing - Sarah heads for Darwin with the prospect of a new start on the horizon and the danger of World War II looming.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the vibe of Australia is to call it the Australian Gone With the Wind. Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) set out to make it as such, and he largely succeeded. The film as a whole feels like a throwback to the filmmaking of a bygone era. The characters are strong archetypes and the plot dips unapolagetically into melodrama. There are times when it all feels a bit predictable, but it still feels right, because though the movie feels a bit like one you've seen before, it's still an enjoyable ride. Even the special effects serve the throwback vision. In the movie's first hour, I was a bit concerned that the effects, even something a simple as green-screen work, looked a bit off. Over time, though, it becomes clear that this look is intentional, echoing the days when a background was a matte painting, everyone knew it, and that was that. Rather than distracting from the visual mood of the film, the effects serve it beautifully. There's a lot to look at here, and watching it on Blu-ray the color all but leaped off the screen. It's a long ride (clocking in at about 2 hours, 40 minutes), but an enjoyable one. Look, I'm not going to pretend Australia's a great film. In fact, my above-stated biases probably made me like it more than most will. However, if you share my love for sweeping epics, this is more than worth a rental. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Australia is rated PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.


Darius said...

Is it better than Far and Away?

D.J. Williams said...

I've actually never seen Far and Away, so I couldn't say.

Darius said...

And you say you love epics.. ha :)

Far and Away is great, by the way.