Did you ever order a steak dinner and get a tough steak, bland potatoes, and a wilted salad. Oh, it may taste ok once you add A-1 on the steak, salt and butter on the potatoes and dressing on the salad but you're still disappointed. Australia is kind of like that, only for it to truly be like that particular steak dinner, the steak would have to come to life, kick you on the crotch, expose itself to your date then run out and take a leak on your car.
Somehow or other, director Bax Luhrmann managed to convince studio executives to let him make a long and ridiculously expensive three hour film "epic" even though the only truly epic aspect is it's three hour length. I've heard stories that 20th Century Fox's owner, native born Aussie and Sith Lord Rupert Murdoch, fell in love with fellow Aussie Luhrmann's vision of the film and started handing out checks to him in the same way that a crack dealer would hand out crack to crack addicts if they gave away crack instead of charging for it. Which they don't. This resulted in total creative freedom for a director whose two biggest directorial achievements were remaking Romeo and Juliet in the style of a campy drag show and Moulin Rouge, a movie that looks like it was made by having Luhrmann wire a camera directly into his brain so that he could actually film an acid trip he was having.
The movie opens in England in 1939 where Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is actually considering leaving her perfectly decent country to see what her husband has been up to while on a trip to Faraway Downs, the vast Australian cattle ranch they own. It's odd to me that a movie whose creators were trying to glorify their home country ended up portraying said country as the planet's armpit but that's pretty much how Australia makes the real Australia look. After ignoring all the people who said, "Uh, you know, we're about to go to war with Germany, don't you think it'd be a bad time to travel halfway around the world?" she sets sail and ends up in the city of Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory. I know it was 1939 but I'd like that one of Australia's most prominent cities had more going for it than the broken down buildings, manure filled streets and endless array of backwoods drongos that fill this movie. The Japanese bombed this place in 1942 because they thought it was an essential and important target and, if this movie was all I had to go on, I have to ask why they bothered. A pig farm in Alabama would have been a better target than the Darwin of this movie's world.
We also meet The Drover (Hugh Jackman). Drover is the only name we're ever told he has which really limited his career options. It would be tough to enter the world of physics research or high finance with a name like The Drover. Drover was sent by Sarah's husband to escort her over the long journey to Faraway Downs. Drover shows how seriously he takes that responsibility by getting into a bar fight just as her ship pulls into the harbor. As they travel over the godforsaken spot of the Earth that is the Northern Territories during the dry season, Sarah and Drover develop the kind of childish contempt for one another that good looking people in movies always develop when, in fact, they are destined to sleep together.
When they arrive at Faraway Downs, they discover that Sarah's husband has been killed, possibly by an Aboriginal shaman named King George. We also meet Nullah, a character who is another example of what not to do when you're trying to make a movie showing the rest of the world how awesome your country is. Nullah is the son of an Aborigine mother and a white father. This makes him the target of one of Australia's most shameful historical practices, that being a century-long assimilation program in which children of mixed race were taken from their families and placed into institutions where, as one particularly racist character puts it, they can "breed the black out of them." Nullah lives with his mother on the ranch but always has to hide when the authorities show up so he doesn't get taken. Sarah, a woman who can't have children, bonds with Nullah after his mother dies and even talks of adopting him since his father, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), is a huge dick who couldn't care less about Nullah. Fletcher is also the movie's main villain who, while working as a ranch hand at Faraway Downs, is also secretly working for rival cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown). Carney's goal is to dominate the beef industry in the Northern Territory so that he can fulfill his dream of becoming a sleazy war profiteer by charging the British military a ridiculous price for the beef it needs to feed the troops who are about to fight Germany.
After Sarah gets Drover to help her organize the cattle drive from Faraway Downs to Darwin, they discover that it was actually Fletcher who killed her husband and is now doing things like having her cattle stampede and poison all the water holes in the desert. It should come as no surprise that they manage to overcome all that, get the cows to market on time and foil Carney and Fletcher's plan to screw over the military during wartime. It should also come as no surprise that Sarah and Drover suddenly notice that they are the two hottest people in Australia and jump into bed together. Sarah, at least, did show her late husband the respect of waiting a good two weeks or so before letting another man penetrate her but, in her defense, sex, up to this point in her life, was only something she did when she wanted her wealthy husband to buy her a new necklace and not the delightfully filthy stuff she does with The Drover.
So, there you have it, the whole predictable plot of this dreadfully average movie and OH MY FREAKIN GOD THE MOVIE'S NOT EVEN HALF OVER YET. Yes, we have to see these boring, two dimensional characters (especially Fletcher, one of the least interesting movie villains I've seen in a while) stretch this snooze fest out for another 90 minutes. Over the next couple of years, we see how smart Drover is by choosing to drove cattle for six months at a time instead of living as a ranch manager at Faraway Downs with the most beautiful woman he's ever known and we see how smart Sarah is by tolerating this. We also see that 11 year old Nullah possesses what must be some sort of ancient Aboriginal power to not grown an inch even though the story stretches from 1939 to 1942.
So, if your idea of a good time at the movies is watching pretty people doing boring things with spectacular shots of the Australian wild in the background, then Australia is definitely for you. At least there weren't any biker gangs looking for gasoline. Sorry, couldn't resist that.