Australia

If looks were everything, director Baz Luhrmann's epic salute to his native land would be the movie of the year. But, crikey, a padded script bloated with subplots and shameless sentimentality can wear you down. Nicole Kidman pushes way too hard (and the strain shows) as Lady Sarah Ashley, a Brit snob who comes to Australia in 1939 to catch her husband cheating and instead finds him murdered. It's not long before she takes over his cattle ranch, befriends a half-caste boy, Nullah (cutie Brandon Walters), victimized by the government's racial policies against Aborigines, and beds down with the Drover (a lively, sexy Hugh Jackman), the cowboy who drives her cheeky bulls to market. There's also World War II, the 1942 Japanese bombing of Darwin and umpteen choruses of "Over the Rainbow," the Wizard of Oz tune that is sung whenever a tear needs jerking. Luhrmann, the visual master behind Moulin Rouge!, cannot compose an ugly shot. But beautiful scenery and the best intentions can't save Australia from dissolving in goo.

From The Archives Issue 306: December 13, 1979