Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters, David Gulpilil
(PG-13, 155 min.)
"The biggest risk in life is not risking." anonymous
This sweeping epic is what the big screen was made for – a country of austere beauty, its cruelty and benevolence as capricious as the rough souls that inhabit it. Unabashedly bold, brash, and romantic, the saga stampedes across the screen with nary a nod to nihilism or nuance, pausing only to tip its hat to a bit of self-aware irony.
What Australia doesn’t do is take itself too seriously, which may be one reason why so many critics, who most certainly themselves do, damn it with faint praise. While they readily accept a genre bent on deconstruction of its own mythos, such as 2007’s No Country for Old Men, a work of “cold, soulless brilliance, like a clock slowly winding down to silence,” or There Will Be Blood, the story of an “amoral misanthrope…as elemental as the harsh landscape,” they are flummoxed by a film without pessimistic pretension and unremitting despair.
Not that Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) doesn’t have reason for a surplus of both feelings. The prim Englishwoman has arrived at Faraway Downs, a godforsaken cattle ranch in the vast arid plains outside of Darwin, Australia, to rescue what remains of the family fortune as well as her profligate and reckless husband, who has been poring funds into his pet project at a rate almost as alarming as that of our current Secretary of the Treasury. Neither is in particularly good shape. Well, in fact, Lord Ashley, is no more, the victim of a native spear purportedly wielded by King George (David Gulpilil), an aborigine “witch doctor,” while what cattle that exist are hopelessly scattered.
Nonetheless, the pale heiress has a kind of grit underneath her lithe frame and elegant wardrobe, and her skills at riding her English thoroughbred jumpers make a not so rough transition to wrangling Aussie cattle. Unfortunately, she has just fired the corrupt ranch manager, and he has left with a sullen G’day as well as all his men. Lady Ashley recruits the native maid, the rotund accountant Kipling Flynn (Jack Thompson), foreswearing his rum for the trip – we hope and trust – the half-caste boy Nullah (Brandon Walters), and persuades Drover (Hugh Jackman) to do what his name implies. He accepts with the premise that on the trail he is the absolute boss, which of course, lady Ashley finds agreeing to rather easier than putting in practice.
Oh, and did I add, it is the brink of World War II, with the Japanese attack on Darwin following the outrage of Pearl Harbor, with all its charred carnage and chaos?
What we have here is the classic romance of the haughty and prim beauty, the exotic transplant in a rough country strangely attracted and repelled by the hopelessly handsome and arrogant man in charge. It is Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Eleanor Parker, Vivien Leigh, versus Rock Hudson, Peter Finch, Humphrey Bogart, Charlton Heston, and Clark Gable in Giant, Elephant Walk, African Queen, The Naked Jungle, and Gone with the Wind, all over again, with a few kangaroos and “crikeys” thrown in. And Jackman has a torso that puts to shame those earlier box office idols who sadly didn’t have Nautilus machines in their dressing rooms. He looks pretty good in chaps, too.
The part of the film that deals with Australia’s harsh treatment of mixed race children as portrayed by Brandon Walters’ Nullah gives the film a serious subtext without wallowing in Western guilt. And Brandon Walters himself is adorable enough to melt your heart but politely forgo from stealing the show from the big names. His voice over narrative has just the right amount of earnest innocence without being cutesy. (You’ve got some competition, Morgan Freeman.) And David Gulpilil as King George, the aborigine “witch doctor,’ is truly authentic, from his tapered straight as a stick body to the eyes that are in this world but not of it.
This film is a guilt free holiday treat, drenched in frothy romance and chocked full of beef as well as some pretty good beefcake, but miraculously devoid of calories. What’s not to like?
I doubt Lady Ashley, Drover, and Nullah had the time to indulge in what is now one of Australia’s favorite sweets, Tim Tams. That and the fact that they weren’t invented until 1963:
Tim Tams were first launched in 1963. They were named after a horse that ran in the Kentucky Derby in 1958. A member of the Arnott family, Ross Arnott, attended the race day and decided ‘Tim Tam’ was the perfect name for the new biscuit he was about to launch. Since the launch of the Original Tim Tam biscuit Arnott's have now made eight different flavoured Tim Tams: Original, Chewy Caramel, Mocha, Double Coat and Classic Dark Chocolate, Special Edition Tim Tam Hazelnut, Limited Edition White Chocolate and new Special Edition Chewy Choc Fudge.
But Australian native Nicole Kidman thought enough of them to bring a slew of Tim Tams along with her when she appeared promoting Australia on Oprah Winfrey. You can buy them here at Cost Plus World Market.
This delicious recipe uses them for an Aussie twist on cheesecake. Crikey, it’s good!
Tim Tam Cheesecake
Make your favorite cheesecake. However use crushed Tim Tam biscuits and butter to make the crust. For those who need a few more details:
1 (8 7/8 ounce) package plain chocolate biscuits
5 1/3 ounces butter, melted
1 7/8 ounces dark chocolate, melted
1 tablespoons gelatin
1/4 cup water
2 (8 7/8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
tim tam biscuits, chopped
1 (1 1/3 cup) carton thickened cream, whipped
Blend or process plain biscuits until finely crushed. Add butter; process until just combined. Press biscuit mixture evenly over base and upside of a 20 cm spring-form tin. Cover, refrigerate while preparing filling.
Filling: Sprinkle gelatin over the water in a small heatproof jug. Stand jug in a small pan of simmering water; stir until gelatin is dissolved. Cool slightly. Beat cream cheese and sugar in a medium bowl with electric mixer until smooth. Stir in gelatin mixture, then chopped biscuits. Fold in whipped cream.
Pour filling into prepared tin.
Drizzle choc in parallel lines, 1cm apart, across cheesecake. Pull a skewer backwards and forwards through choc to create a marbled effect. Refrigerate c/cake for about 3hrs or until set.
Recipe Source: Recipezaar.com