A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this historical melodrama stars popular Aussies Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, but even with that level of celebrity wattage, it's unlikely to attract tweens and younger teens. But older teens, especially mature girls, may be drawn to the romance that's played up in the advertising. The film deals with mature themes like racism, greed, war, class consciousness, and sexual politics. The violence is realistic and occasionally bloody -- characters are speared, shot, burned, drowned, and beaten. The characters' sexual chemistry and tension turns into several passionate kisses and a love-making scene in which bare shoulders, a man's chest, and a woman's underwear, back, and legs are all visible. The Northern Territory is portrayed as full of hard-drinking, aboriginal-hating men and demure, high-society couples. Mature teens who see the film are likely to learn about about Australia's role in World War II and how the country historically treated its indigenous people.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Set in Australia's Northern Territory before World War II, AUSTRALIA follows Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), an English aristocrat who travels Down Under to convince her husband to sell their unprofitable cattle farm. From the moment she arrives, she's completely out of her element, and then a mysterious tragedy leaves her a widow with a property she doesn't know how to manage -- and a greedy, villainous competitor to outsmart. Enter grizzled drifter Drover (Hugh Jackman), the only person Sarah can trust to help save her cattle farm. As the two battle harsh elements and unforgiving odds, they (predictably) fall in love and take guardianship of Nullah (Brandon Walters), an orphaned biracial aboriginal boy they must protect from the authorities who seek to strip him of his culture and teach him to become a servant in white society.
Is it any good?
Baz Luhrmann isn't subtle, so it's no surprise that this compelling movie -- the most expensive one ever made Down Under -- has been criticized as a self-indulgent, grandiose, and bumpy ride. It is all of those things, not to mention overlong and campy. But despite its flaws (multiple endings, an uneven tone, and overall hamminess), it's also an utterly riveting, lushly photographed epic with all the high-stakes melodrama of the 1939 films it's an homage to: The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind (Jackman, like George Clooney, is one of a handful of modern leading men who can channel the dashing Clark Gable).
The film's pre-World War II acts work best, when Sarah and Drover -- along with the adorable Nullah and their other aboriginal associates -- band together to drove their cattle across barren no man's land to challenge the Australian beef industry's oligarch King Carney and his henchman Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) for a lucrative Army contract. The perilous adventure culminates in a boring society ball where Jackman makes a grand entrance and sweeps Sarah away in the rain. Kisses in the rain are as formulaic as film scenes come, but it doesn't matter when the leading couple is so appealing. So, as choppy and manipulative as the two-and-a-half-hour tale can get, the Man Behind the Curtain's gift for theatricality makes Australia hard to resist.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's big issues. What do your kids think about the way the film addresses race, and how do they think things have changed since the film's era?
How were World War II-era racial tensions in Australia similar to and different from those in America?
How accurate do you think the movie is in portraying Australia's history? What did you learn about the country that you didn't know before seeing the movie?
- In theaters: November 26, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: March 3, 2009
- Cast: David Wenham, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman
- Director: Baz Luhrmann
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 165 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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