Australia's reviews were mostly mixed, with some accentuating the positive and some the negative.
Australia (2008 film)
Early reviews in the Australian press were mixed to positive with the general consensus that Australia was a good but not great film. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that as of 29 November 2008, 52% of critics gave the film a positive write-up, based upon a sample of 126, with an average score of 5.8/10. The site reported that the consensus was that while the film features "lavish vistas" and "impeccable production," it suffers due to its "lack of originality" and "thinly-drawn characters."
(Un)Happy Cows: Milk, Australia, Quantum of Solace, Twilight
By Fernando F. Croce
The people of the film--with the stunning exception of Nullah--are caricatures rather than characters, and offer us little emotional connection. Luhrmann’s deliberate directorial decision to take this melodramatic approach means the performances are exaggerated, Kidman thoroughly entertaining as the comic English lady abroad, but less convincing as she falls for Jackman’s rough but noble outcast stockman. The real charm and warmth in the film comes almost exclusively from the performance of the young Brandon Walters, whose natural ease serves to highlight the cartoon nature of those around him.
The film looks stunning, Mandy Walker’s cinematography of the outback a real highlight (and far superior to the CGI-enhanced sequences) but I suspect that, like Kangaroo in 1952, this wont be enough to thrill audiences or woo critics.
The Native aspects
When Australia came out, I covered it in a couple postings:
Aborigines stereotyped in Australia
Australia's "black fella magic"
Here are a few additional thoughts:
For movies where Aborigines are at the center of the story and whites on the periphery, rather than the other way around, see the superior Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker, and Walkabout.
Consider Nullah the half-caste boy. His father is a villainous white man and his mother an Aboriginal servant on the ranch. How did she come to be in a position of servitude? Where are her people and why doesn't she rejoin them? Did the man rape her, or did she "acquiesce" to his advances because she lacked options? How does she feel when he struts around as if he practically owns her?
Questions like this go unanswered in a film like Australia. It almost has a whiff of Song of the South, with its happy slaves, about it. The Aborigines don't whistle a happy tune, but they don't seem terribly upset about their plight either. None of them are brimming with the anger or hate one might feel in their positions.
In conclusion, I'd say Australia is a sprawling mess of a movie with good intentions but mediocre results. Rob's rating: 6.0 of 10.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.