Set after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and just before the bombing of Darwin, Australia follows Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) and cattle-man Drover (Hugh Jackman) as they try to revitalize a faltering cattle ranch. Drover and Sarah must also protect a young aborigine boy from the government policy-enforcers who take aboriginal children away from their families and relocate them to a mission. Finally, the duo is faced with a much larger cattle company trying to put them out of business along with the looming threat of war and the hopeful spark of love.
While Australia has its share of theatric and moral flaws, the film is an enthralling epic about the journey of two broken individuals. Even the minor characters undergo challenges and change as the film takes the viewer from a treacherous cattle drive to the desperate struggles of war. While the opening minutes of the movie hurtle quite a bit of back-story at its audience, once inside the story, the viewer is quickly engaged with the characters.
Australia is clearly outlined in three sections: the cattle-drive, the romance, and the war. Each of these segments tell their story effectively, but the flow of story from one to the next is a bit choppy. In spite of this, though, the film equally excites with action, elicits heart-break and ultimately inspires.
The acting of both Jackman and Kidman is phenomenal, and is only upstaged by the young native Australian actor, Brandon Walters. Equally stunning is the cinematography which, barring a few bizarre swiveling shots in the opening that feel too modern for the setting, aptly captures the atmosphere of the down-under country.
Morally, Australia has a number of flaws. First, the aboriginal characters often use what they describe as “magic” to guide them through life. While the reality of whether or not this magic works is left ambivalent in the film, it is referenced to often. Personally, I was not terribly offended by its presence in the film because the film-makers presented this “magic” as just the way this people-group does things.
Along with the “magic” is the terrible reality of the missions where children were separated from their parents. Yes, the move shows the complacency of the Christian priests with this governmental policy, but it fortunately does not demonize Christianity and even has a sympathetic Christian character who acted admirably in the film.
Other moral issues include the frequent use of alcohol, generally mild profanity (although one use of strong language occurred) and thematic violence all occur throughout the film.
The most disappointing moral failure of the film is the brief, sexual scene about midway through the film. As I stated earlier, this film is about the journey of broken people, but that does not require the uncomfortable-to-watch “undressing scene” nor the subsequent “showing-almost everything-except-for-what-we-obscured-with-the-blankets” scene. By today’s movies standards the scene was brief . . . but it added nothing to the film. (It should also be noted that one scene features Jackman in low-low-low-cut jeans and no shirt . . . which made me realize that I need to start going to the gym or do some sit-ups once in a while.)
Appropriately rated PG-13
I would be prepared to discuss issues of abstinence, marriage and commitment with any teenagers who’ve gone to see this otherwise masterful film.
A native New Yorker, Nathan J. Norman resides in Southern California where he serves as a youth pastor, attends seminary at Biola University, regularly blogs and writes sci-fi/fantasy novels.