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Heroes of the Zeroes: Australia

by on January 21, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.


“Australia”
Rated PG-13
2008

Baz Luhrmann unapologetically specializes in dancing to uncommon time and pulling back from deep dips just before his choreography crashes to the floor.

“Australia” — Luhrmann’s splashy, bighearted 2008 epic — brimmed with pleasures of sacrifice, betrayal, romance and danger. It also cautiously modulated themes in an often-sober story of prejudice against aborigines circa World War II.

Wowing crane shots spoke to gulfs between Australia’s people. Luhrmann never flinched from sorrowful violence. And the final act avoided shameless WWII sentiment, the wreckage pointing toward larger points of Luhrmann’s cultural treatise, with no more détente beyond a drink shared in a bar.

Nicole Kidman plays a British aristocrat running her late husband’s Aussie cattle ranch, and she’s more authentic in Luhrmann’s hands than in anyone else’s last decade — even more than her Oscar-winning turn in “The Hours.”

Kidman is natural and true when stumbling through a version of “Over the Rainbow.” With dust-caked cheeks and bangs covering her immobile forehead, she looks less like a porcelain prima donna and more like a human with screwball neuroses and a headstrong business sense.

Dusky-eyed, brash and given proper Eastwood-ian introduction, Jackman’s independent cattle driver aids her, falls in love and grows fatherly with Nullah (Brandon Walters), a mixed-race Aborigine.

“Australia” occasionally stumbles into corny sidesteps like Jackman’s “Oh, crikey” catchphrase. But Luhrmann mythologized his homeland as American directors like John Ford did with Westerns — dramatic-license exaggerations that pay off in droves. “Australia” appealed to the eyes as a travelogue but engaged the continent’s dark heart.

 

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