Hoist on its own grand ambition, Peter Costello of The Age

As a historical piece, Luhrmann's Australia makes a good romance.

AS A love story the Baz Luhrmann film Australia is pretty good. If only the filmmaker had left it at that. But when you give a movie such a grandiose title you are trying to say something much bigger than boy meets girl and falls in love. Your intention is to say something grand - definitive - about a nation and its history. And that is where the film goes wrong.

The basic story is about a prissy English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who falls in love with the romantic but footloose drover (Hugh Jackman) in the remote Northern Territory. Together they overcome great obstacles in a vast country.

But in addition to that the movie wants to tell the story of the stolen generations. It is out to make a statement - our filmmaker wants to show a conscience while making a healthy return. Everyone wins.

The key to financial return is the American market. Conventional wisdom says that Americans are mostly interested in their own history and culture. So the movie opens by telling us about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Australia is at war and beef producers are competing to supply military contracts. Except by now we are back in 1939. America is not in World War II at this time. Luckily our English rose (Kidman) has been to see The Wizard of Oz. She can therefore sing some of the show tunes and this allows the movie to intersperse (quite humorously) American culture into the outback. America's influence is right there in the Northern Territory. It's just like Kansas.

And it's all a little bit like Crocodile Dundee. But Australia has loftier ambitions. It will tell the story of indigenous Australia through the real star of the film - Nullah - a half-caste Aboriginal boy who the Northern Territory police are conspiring to make part of the stolen generations. Nullah's mother is drowned and his white father wants to shoot him. I interrupt here to observe that if a child has only one parent who is a (white) homicidal maniac the authorities should be looking to take that child away from that parent - for his own protection. It can hardly be called stealing.

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Hoist on its own grand ambition, by Peter Costello, TheAge, 10 December 2008


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