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Stars: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Brandon Walters, David Gulpilil

Director: Baz Luhrmann

This sweeping, ambitious, superlong saga, running from 1939 to 1941, certainly has crowd scenes that make you go, in the lingo of the characters, 'Crikey!' - even if the staggering CGI effects are slightly marred by smoke in the backgrounds that refuses to move.

Things, though, start badly. Kidman's Lady Sarah, following her husband from England to Australia, only to find him dead at their ranch, Faraway Downs, is just too stiff to be true, and tends to remain so off and on throughout, her upper-crust English accent sadly misjudged. Aussie bit-part players, too, are well over the top in early scenes, but things settle down a bit when Sarah throws the treacherous Fletcher (Wenham, a good villain) off her land for beating mixed-race boy Nullah (Walters), whom she takes under her wing.

While Fletcher flees back to local cattle baron King Carney (Brown), Sarah determines to drive her cattle to Darwin on the northwest coast and break Carney's monopoly, hiring the itinerant Drover (Jackman, striking muscular poses and occasionally looking, with his beard, like the Clint Eastwood of spaghetti western days) as her trail boss. Naturally antagonism turns to attraction on the epic drive, which ends with the film's best scene when Sarah drives the herd into town and fights to get them on board a ship before Carney can stop her.

There's a lot more to come (the film has two or three endings), including the Japanese bombing of Darwin, with Fletcher always lurking in the background like a snake in the grass, and the aborigines, as in the more conscience-stricken Hollywood 'Red Indian' movies, either lovable, mystical, noble or all three. Considering it took four people to write it, the script too often tends to melodrama, giving the audience a but of a giggle between the stunning action scenes, superbly photographed, as is the whole film, by Mandy Walker. It's by no means a great movie, but certainly an entertaining one. Not quite Luhrmann's Pearl Harbor then, but sometimes too close for comfort.

David Quinlan

Australia 2008. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by Atlab/deluxe.
165 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 21 Dec 2008