PEORIA -- The hot new film Australia is an endless, beautiful mess.
Be warned: it will make you furiously start mentally re-writing the plot to eliminate the cliches, to improve it. And as well wonder why anyone would send out such a chaotic film to the mass market.
Don't people who spend millions making a film like this have enough sense to hire a good plot writer?
The film is beautifully photographed and well acted. The scenery is lovely, even if it isn't totally authentic. But it's way too long, nearly three tedious hours, and so much could have been cut out that would have improved it.
Here's how I would have written it:
The English lady arrives in Australia only to learn that her husband has died. (Not murdered mysteriously, a cliche.) Cut the barfight (cliche), and have her met by a delegation of local officials and businessmen, one of whom offers to buy her ranch.
She stalls them and decides to visit the ranch to recover her husband's things. There the staff meets her and begs her not to sell because the authorities will take away the half-native boy, the adorable son of a maid.
The authorities soon arrive and try to find the boy. The mom dies trying to hide him in the water tower.
So here is the most interesting theme in the film -- the forced removal of half-native children to compounds where they will be trained to be servants, a horrible practice that continued in Australia until 1973.
(It reminds me of some of the practices of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services who take children away for weird reasons (like THREAT of harm) and stall against returning them. But unlike Australia, Illinois has not apologized for this practice which destroys families and children alike.)
Back to the film. The English lady is smitten by the boy and by the drover who has escorted her to the ranch, so she decides to keep the ranch for now and resist pressure to sell it. They decide to drive the cattle to town to sell them to the army. Cut the intrigue from the rival rancher, and most of the cattle drive. Cliches!
There can be some excitement on the cattle drive, but not the ridiculous action in the film.
They reach town with the cattle and sell them, but authorities seize the child and take him to the island-school. Show some of the conditions in that school. Is it cruel? Or not?
The English lady talks her drover/lover into going with her to the town's ball, raising the scorn of the others, and showing another form of discrimination in Australia that must be overcome.
Then the Japanese attack. The boy is rescued from the school and the three flee to the ranch (on horseback?), to sit out the war, raise horses, learn more about the natives because of the boy, and all ends happily. Or not.
With that plot it might be an award winner. Without it, save your time and money, or order it on Netflix and fast-forward through the dumb parts.
-- Elaine Hopkins