I don’t mean the 1930s, when the movie itself is set. The time I’m talking about is the 1950s, when sweeping epics dominated the silver screen, Gary Cooper looked good in a cowboy hat, and WWII inspired movies far better than “Pearl Harbor.”
“Australia,” the latest offering from director Baz Luhrmann, would have felt right at home.
At its heart (and for at least two-thirds of its length), the movie is a sprawling, old-fashioned western with cattle drives, a struggling ranch that needs to be saved (here called a station), noble sacrifice, and a rich, villainous land-grabber who wants to take control of the aforementioned ranch.
Nicole Kidman brings her usual elegance and self-possession to the classic role of the Elegant Lady Out of Her Element, and Hugh Jackman is earthy, manly, and gorgeous as the equally classic Rugged Cowboy With A Heart Of Gold.
(Note: Some of the movie’s potential audience won’t care at all about westerns or epics, and will go simply to stare at Hugh Jackman for a few hours. For those women, let me assure you that the experience will be 100 percent worth it. Feel free to ignore the rest of the review).
True, the action happens in Australia’s north country rather than the American West, but that’s because it’s just about the only place where you can set a western and have it slide into a WWII movie at the end (complete with bombs, tragic separations, and teary clutching).
Add a steady stream of Aboriginal magic and culture, a romance between the leads that embraces both tender new love and the complicated business of building a life together, and you’ve got an epic in all capitol letters with a couple of exclamation points.
It could be argued that Luhrmann made a movie and a half instead of just one, and it takes about 15 minutes to get past some initial awkwardness and settled into a steady rhythm. Also, since this is the director of “Moulin Rouge” we’re dealing with, there are a few overly stylistic touches that seem utterly out of place in the middle of all the horses and adventure.
The truth, though, is that these fade into minor quibbles when the movie really gets going. This is a film that carries the audience away with its characters, making the joys, tragedies, and dreams of its characters seem real and vitally important. Each loss made several members of the audience teary-eyed, and each victory – whether it’s surviving a stampede, falling in love, or building a home – seemed like something worth cheering for.
And, for at least a couple of hours, a trip back in time worth taking.