Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman star in director Baz Luhrmann’s epic drama.
Editor's Note: Throughout March and April, we’re celebrating Great Westerns of the 21st Century — noteworthy movies and TV series with special appeal to C&I readers that have premiered since 2001. Check the Entertainment tab Monday through Friday to see a different recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for our upcoming May/June 2020 print edition, which prominently features the legendary star who looms large in two of this century’s very best westerns.
An epic romantic adventure set against the backdrop of a massive World War II-era cattle drive, director Baz Luhrmann’s Australia is a large-scale, grandly old-fashioned saga propelled by the megawatt star power of Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.
The plot pivots on the charged relationship between Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman), a prim and proper British aristocrat who travels to the Outback to look for her missing husband at their Northern Territory homestead, and The Drover (Jackman), a roguish, rough-hewn loner Lady Sarah employs to drive hundreds of cattle across hundreds of miles of the world’s most beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.
Passions swell, tensions mount, cattle stampede – and at the end of the trail, the leads must survive the bombing of the city of Darwin by the same Japanese forces that attacked Pearl Harbor.
Call it Lonesome Dove meets Gone with the Wind, and you won’t be far off the mark.
“But it’s also in the style of Out of Africa,” Jackman told C&I shortly before the 2008 release of Australia. “And The African Queen. And Titanic. That kind of genre, whatever you’d call it. A big, epic, romantic adventure story.”
Jackman had been doing post-production dubbing at the time he spoke with us, “so I’ve had the chance to look at everything again,” he said. “And more than ever before, and I’ve had the feeling of, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’m in one of those movies.’ It’s a real old school, Hollywood classic sort of movie. And I’ve found myself getting a little tingle in the back of my neck: ‘Wow! I’m in one of those!’ It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Film critic David Ansen echoed Jackman’s enthusiasm for Australia in his review for Newsweek: “It’s a love story, a western, a World War II saga, a social-conscience drama and a remix of every classic Old Hollywood grand gesture ever committed to film. When the haughty English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) descends on the vast, remote Faraway Downs estate owned by her errant — and freshly murdered — husband, visions of Elizabeth Taylor in Giant and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen come to mind. When she hooks up with a wild, untamed cattle driver called The Drover (Hugh Jackman) to lead her herd on a treacherous cross-country trek to Darwin, it’s as if [Baz Luhrmann] were channeling Red River and John Ford and Lawrence of Arabia.
“Australia is a shameless — and shamelessly entertaining — pastiche. It works because Luhrmann, a true believer in movie-movie magic, stamps it all with the force of his own extravagant, generous personality.”
By the way: Luhrmann also figures out a way to toss a little bit of The Wizard of Oz into the mix. And it is pretty dadgum wonderful.
Australia currently is available for streaming on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime and other platforms.