http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/dec/22...-australia-film Down Blunder Baz Luhrmann's ambitious attempt to make an antipodean Gone With the Wind is a shallow, overblown and embarrassing failure, says Peter Bradshaw Something strange happened to my face shortly after the beginning of Baz Luhrmann's excruciating new wartime romance epic, starring Nicole Kidman as the posh English Lady Sarah who travels out to Australia in 1940, and Hugh "Russell Crowe is not available" Jackman as the bit of local rough with whom she falls swooningly in love. A kind of clinical shock caused the upper part of my body to go into a state of paralysis. The skin on my face became as tense and inert as Kidman's forehead. My whole face was as taut as a snare drum, or the back of a saddleback pig. The roof of my mouth became locked as I tried to give a traumatised whinny of distress: "Nggg ... ngggg ..." Right back at me came Kidman's English accent: "Eauu maah-eye Gord, th-eauu-se cahh-tle are escayyy-ping acrawss thuh bil-ah-bongggg." At war's outbreak, Lady Sarah furiously suspects her absent husband is getting some extracurricular jollies on the family's cattle station in Australia, although her emotional state has to be inferred from the dialogue, rather than from Kidman's immobile face, in which the only discernible movement is a faint pursing of the mouth and a quiver of that retroussé nose, perhaps induced by two tiny invisible electrodes being jabbed into her lips below the nostrils. She impulsively travels out there - quite a quick journey, evidently - to the impotent dismay of various servants and submissive salaried flunkies. Turns out her husband has been killed as a result of a creepy conspiracy by white monopolists to bankrupt her business, and a preternaturally wise Aborigine called King George, played by David Gulpilil, has been fitted up for the murder. Imperious and adorable, Lady Sarah announces she wants to drive her cattle billions of miles across the CGI Outback to market anyway, to the exasperation of her hairy stockman, Drover, played of course by Hugh "Russell Crowe's fee was just that bit too high" Jackman. As they encounter all sorts of tempests and setbacks, love inevitably flowers between Nicole Kidman and Hugh "Russell's agent was frankly unreasonable on the phone" Jackman. They are accompanied by Nullah (Brandon Walters), a young mixed-race boy of the sort the Australian authorities notoriously used to insist on spiriting away to conceal the evidence of sex between the races. The grotesque condescension of making the only important Aborigine character a child would rather seem to underline the racists' repeated declarations that the Aborigines are just children. But Luhrmann is always mustard-keen to accord his Aborigine characters their own narrative of cultural identity. "The only thing you really own is your story," says Drover solemnly - which is quite something, as Luhrmann pinches almost everyone else's story. Gone With the Wind, Out of Africa, The African Queen, Empire of the Sun and many others get nicked. The characters also go to see The Wizard of Oz, because the last word of that title is slang for a certain antipodean country, geddit? The score, moreover, offers variations on Waltzing Matilda, Sheep May Safely Graze and - to accompany Nullah's ecstatic embrace of his Aboriginal identity - Elgar's Nimrod. Cattle-related adventures satisfactorily concluded, Kidman embarks on a blissful but tragically short period of quasi-marital happiness with Hugh "Russell's putting on weight anyway" Jackman. But then their relationship is thrown into crisis when the Japanese attack. With an awful inevitability, the hero and heroine are saved by the aged wisdom of King George, who is often seen in long shot: part of, and effectively indistinguishable from, the awesome digital landscape. King George is pretty damn useful with that spear of his, and in the film's final moments, despite having been arrested, he chucks it to great effect - how very fortunate the authorities neglected to take it off him. Perhaps they were culturally sensitive enough to realise it was part of his "story". The zappy, hyperactive cuts and zooms that are so much a part of Luhrmann's style melt away as the solemnity of the film sets like concrete. We are left with slow-moving insincerity and conceit, summoned up in the flatulence of that title: Australia, a country reborn in terms of facetious Hollywood cliches. The film seems to mark the moment when the white man's burden of colonial condescension passed from Britain to the United States. All this Australia offers is a cringe, but not a very cultural one.