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-Australia (PG-13)

by Dr. D ~

image Theater release: November 26, 2008 by Twentieth Century Fox, Directed by: Baz Luhrmann, Runtime: 165 minutes, Cast: Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley), Hugh Jackman (Drover), David Wenham (Neil Fletcher), Brandon Walters (Nullah), David Gulpilil (King George).

A far better picture than most of the reviews indicate. The story provides a panoramic picture of the Australian frontier in the late 1930’s and early 40’s up to the beginning of WWII.

The setting is a huge cattle ranch outside of Derby in northern Australia. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) leaves England and arrives in Australia to check on her husband, who owns the Faraway Downs cattle ranch, and finds that he has been killed and his ranch in danger of being taken over by a rival cattle company.

Lady Ashley decides to stay and make a go of it, asking for help from a dashing, rugged cattle driver named Drover (Hugh Jackman), as well as the aboriginal helpers on the ranch. In the process she develops a special relationship with a young “half-caste”–half aborigine orphan boy, named Nullah (Brandon Walters), and decides to raise him as her own in disregard to the cultural/racial conventions of the time.

A rival cattle baron is doing everything he can through an evil employee-the former ranch foreman for Ashley and her husband, to ruin Lady Ashley’s ranch and force her sell out to him. Turns out that the former foreman is even far more evil than originally expected–he is also Nullah’s real father.

The story line builds up over the point whether Lady Ashley and co. will be able to bring their cattle to market against incredible odds and save the ranch. Then the storyline seems to begin all over and build up to a new climax. There is a lull in between that lasts for longer than it should.

image A great story and one that I highly recommend. A growing love affair between Lady Ashley and Drover is clichéd but satisfying. The panoramic scenery is actually worth the price of admission. It is a classic cattle baron story that pits good against evil with both very clearly defined.

The racial divide between the European Aussies, the aborigines, and the “half-castes” is a continual subtext to the story that gives it an ethical edge that those of us in the 21th century will have a hard time reconciling. It clearly demonstrates that times have changed in the last 60 years or so.           *Top

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