THE BLOG
04/24/2009 04:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

In Praise of Australia

Let those without a heart beating in their breasts give Australia less than four stars. Those who boo kids at Easter Egg hunts, yell at referees at junior hockey games, sneer at sunrises, cut in line in front of little old ladies, give out healthy snacks at Halloween, talk during the Star Spangled Banner... they will laugh and slang at Australia. A pox on them. They prove that they are not really members of the human race.

For if you have a heart, if your thick cynicism barely covers a romantic soul a mile wide, if you teared up at the last scene in In America, if John Wayne in the doorway at the end of The Searchers made you feel something somewhere in you, if you have a pulse, you will love Australia.

I have looked at the reviews: two stars, two and a half stars, I did not read them.

I walked into the movie uninfluenced by words, but worried by the lack of eight down in today's New York Times crossword puzzle: critical acclaim. Biased? Perhaps, I love Baz Luhrmann's movies, but was resigned not to like this movie. I had read a scathing catty critique of all things Nicole Kidman that made me wonder at her status as Baz's favorite actress. I had read of Luhrmann scurrying to recut the movie days before its premiere. I went hopeful, but wary.

And then, from the graphic beauty of the opening credits to the bigger than the Outback story line, Baz had me at G'day. All the most popular of fictions swirling around its epic story: improbable love, class differences, larger than life characters, incredible landscape, life and death. And, my favorite story technique, an omniscient narrator speaking from some time in the future about the past that you are viewing. A movie with highs and lows, tensions built and equitably satisfied, a soaring score, a major throwback, stirring, Hollywood epic.

I just reread that paragraph and I hope it entices you to go see Australia, but, I realized I hadn't even mentioned cattle drives, bar fights, war, violence, mystery, love unrequited, love requited. It is such a big movie that at one point, halfway in, I fully expected a dissolve to a 'Intermission' sign and cocktails in the lobby discussing what we had all just seen and then back in for the climax. Australia feels like one of those big road show movies of the fifties: Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments, The Longest Day.

Most interestingly in such a classically told movie, is its historic story line on Aboriginal racism. Modern movies usually treat race and other au courant social issues with a bludgeon, making critical opinion an exercise in proving one's bonafides. As in Crash, an Oscar winner which will be as unwatchable in ten years as 'Ordinary People.'

Australia has at its core, a story of race. It tells that story in a way that makes everyone understand the injustice and cruelty through character and event. There is no treacle, nor superiority, nor moral wallowing.

Repugnance to racism does not overwhelm Australia but is an integral part of the story. No bludgeon to make its points, but a narrative flow that involves us all in discovering and understanding its evil. The characters are as compelling as the narrative: the youngster who plays a mixed race boy real; Hugh Jackman heroic and with a masculine beauty that Baz Luhrmann is unashamed in reveling in (there is a soap and suds soft porn shot so compelling that Mormons in California might reconsider their Prop 8 vote); a dastardly bad guy that joins the ranks of classic movie bad guys; Nicole Kidman, unlined but not distracting in her unworldliness, effective as Lady Sarah Ashley, effective in portraying love and the need to be loved in a highly sympathetic way; Bryan Brown, not seen on the screen of late, a robber baron who would give the Rockefellers a run for their plutocratic money.

Four stars. Or ten points. Or A+. Or a confession that Australia is so sappy in some parts that I had to do the old look at the ceiling and hope that no one noticed the welling eyes. Two stars? Two and half stars? Criticism based on plot holes, improbability, unbelievability, or a sentimental script? Piss on the hard hearted bastards. They watch six movies a day in little rooms with pasty porcine nerds scribbling notes while eating take out. If you love movies and watch them in real movie houses with fellow movie lovers, 'Australia' is just for you, mate. But, bring a box of tissues, and, remember that the heart will always trump reason if given half a chance. Especially in a movie like Australia.