We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Baz Luhrmann dreamed of making the Australian "Gone With the Wind," and so he has, with much of that film's lush epic beauty and some of the same awkwardness with a national legacy of racism. This is the sort of film described as a "sweeping romantic melodrama," a broad family entertainment that would never have been made without the burning obsession of its producers (Luhrmann for "Australia," David O. Selznick for "GWTW"). Coming from a director known for his punk-rock "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" and the visual pyrotechnics of "Moulin Rouge," it is exuberantly old-fashioned, and I mean that as a compliment.
The movie is set in 1939. Hitler has invaded Poland. The armies of the free world will need beef. In England, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is alarmed by reports that her husband is philandering on his enormous cattle station, Faraway Downs, in northern Australia. She comes to see for herself, but arrives to find him murdered. Now the owner of an expanse large as some countries, she dresses as if for tea. The British long followed the practice of dressing in warm climates as if they were not, and Lady Ashley keeps up the standard.
Here is the situation she finds: Drover (Hugh Jackman), named for his trade, is a rough-hewn free-standing cowboy who has never seen a woman anything like her. He runs cattle drives. She wants him to become manager of the station, but he's a rolling stone. At Faraway Downs, he drives with experienced Aborigine ranch hands, and has under his special protection the Aboriginal boy Nullah (Brandon Walters), who is 11 or 12. Nullah's grandfather is King George (David Gulpilil, who played a boy about Nullah’s age in “Walkabout” from 1971). He has been accused of the murder of Lady Ashley's husband, and has fled to a mountaintop, from which he seemingly sees everything. Nullah is a beautiful boy, biracial, bright, filled with insight, and he provides the narration for the film.
As "Australia" is essentially a Western, there must be an evil rancher with a posse of stooges, and there is: King Carney (Bryan Brown). He wants to add Faraway Downs to his empire. Much will depend on whether Carney or Faraway can be first to deliver cattle in the port city of Darwin. Lady Ashley, prepared to sell out to Carney, sees things that make her reconsider, and determines to join Drover, Nullah and a ragtag band on a cattle drive that will eventually lead into No Man's Land. Meanwhile, the delicate lady and the rugged Drover begin to fall in love, just like Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.