Even though I rarely read reviews before I plan to see a movie anymore, it was hard to escape all the poor buzz about Baz Luhrmann’s latest. But I still had it in my mind to see it, and a positive review from the Hyattsville Boys cinched it for me. So this afternoon we went to take in the long (nearly 3 hour) matinee.
Now, if you’d like to see it, I suggest you keep a couple things in mind. First of all – it’s a Baz film. That means it’s going to be slightly absurd, slightly fantastical, and a visual feast. Also you should know that it’s really more like two movies strung together – call them Peace Time and War Time.
The plot involves an Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman) who goes down under to the north side of Australia in the 1930s to try and turn around her husband’s failing cattle business. Along the way she meets a smart-mouthed cattle driver (Hugh Jackman) and an all-smiles half-Aborigine child (Brandon Walters). Can they get her herd of cattle to the city of Darwin before the evil Carney? And can they survive being torn apart by a country’s racism and impending war?
Here’s the thing – when I first saw the previews for this film, I expected it to be AMAZING. Then I heard the bad buzz, so I lowered my expectations. Ultimately my opinion falls somewhere in the middle – it was definitely good, if not amazing. The acting is admirable – Nicole Kidman rips through her role with the gusto she took on in Moulin Rouge (not that shattered teary waif she usually gives us). Hugh Jackman (GORGEOUS doesn’t begin to cover it) is clearly in his element portraying a rough and tumble lover in his homeland.
The visuals are stunning (it’s like a travelogue postcard for the Aussies) and the pacing is pretty good considering the film’s length. I appreciate how Baz seamlessly takes the movie from silly and absurd at the beginning to serious and emotional by the end. He also has some strong statements to make about Aboriginal culture and the injustice put upon those of mixed race.
What I think it may be lacking is a strong emotional hook from beginning to end. Sure, the final scenes are going to make you choke up. But it doesn’t pack the wallop it might if you were completely drawn into the relationships all along the way. Perhaps if the movie was shorter it would help? I’m not sure. Also I think there’s a bit too much “mystical powers will save the day” which adds a layer of unreality.
That being said, I think this film is worth seeing (particularly on the big screen) and will be a treat for Luhrmann fans. You even get to do a little “isn’t that?” game with past actors from his canon. Ivan the bartender? He was the narcoleptic Argentinian in Moulin Rouge. The auctioneer at the ball? Yep, that was the father in Strictly Ballroom.
My grade for the movie – B.