Baz Luhrmann is probably the most highly regarded director who consistently frustrates me. His first film, "Strictly Ballroom", was a masterpiece. And since then he's failed to match it, despite all the promise. His movies always look beautiful, stunning even, but the story has consistently let me down. His "Romeo + Juliet" was visually great, but shoe-horning it into a modern setting (while staying strictly faithful to Shakespeare's text) came off as silly more often than clever. "Moulin Rouge" amped the visuals up even more, but there were barely even characters, just larger-than-life emotional archetypes and the modern pop songs in a musical was silly (again). But still, I have enough hope that when I hear of a new Baz Luhrmann movie, I want it to be great.
And "Australia" is...not great. But I'd call it his second best after "Strictly Ballroom". The visuals are still there, of course. But now he again has a story that almost matches. The story is still rife with silliness, but if you look at it as an homage to movies of the late 30's/early 40's ("The Wizard of Oz" plays a prominent role in the movie), the silliness almost works in context. Nicole Kidman plays and Hugh Jackman break the monopoly on Australian beef by droving their herd to Darwin. David Wenham is the baddy (and quite a bit over the top in the role). And it's all told through the eyes of a half-breed boy Nullah (Brandon Walters), ridiculed as a "creamy" and not welcome in either world (except, of course, by Nicole Kidman). Aboriginal magic (e.g, the magic of song) plays prominently. BTW, this is one of my pet peeves, assuming that native people are more magical or spiritual than the white invaders. It's just so freakin' cliche. And that's really what holds this movie back--storywise it's a string of giant cliches. But as I said, if I think of it as a 30's or 40's movie, it works better. Oh yeah, and the bombing of Darwin that's featured so prominently in the trailers--that's really just the final act. It's far more a cattle drive movie than a WWII movie.