There are few directorial talents with the energetic potential Baz Luhrmann brings to his projects. Danny Boyle comes to mind. On good days, Fernando Meirelles does too. But one thing each of these filmmakers capitalizes on through their complicated sense of visual storytelling is the power of intimacy in the scripts they set out to film.
Somehow, Baz Luhrmann forgets this. Not that he wouldn’t be capable of tacking a project as ambitious as “Australia,” but at least right now, it has proven to be simply too much movie for the filmmaker at this stage in his career.
Visceral satisfaction is present. Larger than life characterizations are apparent. If you’re willing to let it, you will probably be swept off your feet. But somewhere in the ambition, Luhrmann loses a grip on his own talents, producing something that is a considerable mess.
The romance that sparks between Lady Ashley and the Drover ultimately falls flat dramatically. Part of the staleness stems from the couple’s first intimate encounter, a trite moment of intoxication that seems begrudgingly concocted to set the characters on their way. But what really affects the impact of this central relationship is the ambiguity of Jackman’s Drover.
The film’s considerable artistry is not the stunning example one might have expected, but there are moments of true precision. Much of Mandy Walker’s cinematography is concerned with capturing the picturesque beauty of the Outback, and when clumsy (near embarrassing) CG effects stay out of its way, it succeeds.
The ultimate failure of “Australia” is Luhrmann’s preoccupation with grandiose filmmaking, paradoxically his greatest strength in past examples. It’s a style not suited to a sloppy plot structure that could have used some more attention. Vibrant visuals reveal the scars of a lacking narrative, leaving the frayed ends of a couple of interesting stories to dangle like horrible intentions to begin with.