January 29, 2009 -- This is a big, ambitious, sprawling, entertaining epic Western-type film set in Australia at the beginning of World War II. It seeks to unite Western culture, aboriginal culture, the mythic power of the Wizard of Oz story, a romance and a war story all in one big, long package. It is quite a yarn. It is one of the most ambitious films that I have seen in 2008. That it works at all is remarkable with all these disparate parts. That it works as well as it does is amazing. It isn't a realistic film at all but it has amazing mythical power because it combines aboriginal magic beliefs with the Wizard of Oz story. It is a unique film.
Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (real Aussie actors) star as a cattle drover and an English heiress, respectively. Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) inherits the cattle station Faraway Downs in northern Australia. She enlists the aid of a drover to move the ranch's cattle to the port of Darwin for sale. The sale will help save the ranch from the clutches of Aussie cattle baron King Carney (played by Bryan Brown of “Along Came Polly”). He wants to buy Faraway Downs to complete his near-total land holdings in Northern Australia. Carney dispatches his men to try to stop Lady Ashley's cattle drive, which consists of herself, the drover, his best friend, Magarri (David Ngoombujarra of “Ned Kelly”), a drunken accountant, Kipling Flynn (Jack Thompson of “Leatherheads”), several aboriginal women and an aboriginal boy with an angelic face, Nullah (Brandon Walters).
Watching over them is the mysterious aboriginal magic man and tribal leader King George (David Gulpilil of “Rabbit Proof Fence”). Also dogging them is the villain of the film, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham of “The Lord of the Rings” films). At the end of the perilous journey is a Japanese air attack on Darwin. There is also an on-again, off-again romance between Lady Ashley and the drover, a magical outdoor screening of the Wizard of Oz and a daring rescue of boys on an island school from Japanese troops. That's a lot of plot and this is a lot of movie. At 165 minutes long, it is only 15 minutes short of three hours. I wish I could say it didn't seem that long, but it did. It's long, but it is worth it because it is as entertaining as it is lengthy. All the production values are high, with stirring music by David Hirschfelder (“The Children of Huang Shi”) and marvelous cinematography by Mandy Walker (“Lantana”). This is a movie for those who say they don't make 'em like they used to. This film is made the way they used to make movies, except for some nifty digital effects. This film rates a B.
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