Posted November 25, 2008 in Film

“I mix with dingoes, not duchesses,” barks Hugh Jackman in writer/director Baz Luhrmann’s sweeping Aussie melodrama. The film rarely gets more subtle. Luhrmann isn’t known for restraint—Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge were so heavily gilded with pop hits, wild sets and outrageous costumes that each film reel must have weighed as much as an elephant. There’s not much Luhrmann can add to the sun-bleached and barren Land Down Under and somehow he manages to avoid swapping gold dust for sand. Instead, he’s channeled his need for the over-baked into the script, which is co-written with three other writers and feels as corny as if it was dashed off in an afternoon. Jackman plays Drover, a cattle drover hired to transport brittle Brit Lady Sarah Ashley’s herd to an Army ship to feed the World War II troops in their fight against the Japanese. As Ashley, Nicole Kidman is cast as her usual tense bully; shoulders firm, smile evaporated, she’s a pill to both Drover and us. He’s required by contrivance to love her. We never do. But under all this nonsense, Luhrmann pretends that his indulgent 135-minute drama is really about racism as Kidman—now softer, tanner, and no more credible—fancies herself the adopted mother of a half-aboriginal farm boy (Brandon Walters) trying to dodge capture by a band of bigoted do-gooders who think the best move for mixed castes is to “breed the black out of them.” Luhrmann labors to frame his work as a grandiose social problem film—rarely has a movie tried so hard, and so fruitlessly, for our love. But he’s more interested in poring over Jackman’s brawny chest (the camera taking sneaky dips towards his crotch) than oh, say, any of his aboriginal characters, who are relegated to largely silent roles and mostly end up dead. (Amy Nicholson)


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