Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in Faraway Downs, a film where their characters are considered among the most unlikeable.
The vast expanse of time and space available through streaming television can sometimes be seen as both a blessing and a curse. While concise storytelling is often overlooked, there are certain narratives that require the freedom to expand and unfold at a slower pace. However, it is highly unlikely that many viewers of Baz Luhrmann’s lengthy 2008 film Australia would argue that it needed to be even longer. In fact, the last thing Australia needed was more length added to it.
However, there are individuals who refuse to listen. It appears that Luhrmann is one of these individuals. In a strange turn of events, he has been itching to revisit an extended version of Australia. While most of us were preoccupied with sourdough bread and unfinished Proust novels during lockdown, Luhrmann saw this as an opportunity to fulfill his desire. He contemplated whether he could use the alternative endings and unused footage to bring this story to life once again.
It was a slight chance that this could have been successful. While the overall length has increased, breaking the epic story into shorter 45-minute episodes could have made it easier to follow. Unfortunately, the original issues persist: Faraway Downs still feels too long, cumbersome, lacking in emotional depth and historical accuracy, and tonally inconsistent. It’s a mix of The African Queen and Crocodile Dundee.
The primary problem with Faraway Downs is its plot. It is quite lacking. As World War II approaches, Lady Sarah Ashley, portrayed by Nicole Kidman as a refined Englishwoman, takes charge of her own fate. Her husband is away in Australia managing their vast cattle ranch, but Lady Sarah has made the decision to end their marriage. She embarks on a journey to the remote corners of the world in pursuit of a divorce and a fortune.
Upon reaching her destination, it becomes evident that she has taken on more than she can handle. Her spouse has passed away and Australia is revealed to be a disorderly and unclean environment. Lady Sarah must navigate through the uncontrollable residents, one of whom may be trying to take advantage of her and take her property. She embarks on a long horseback journey, and finally, we are provided with some clarification for her impressive horseback riding abilities.
Hugh Jackman’s character, a cattle drover with no name at first, serves as the only guide for the main character in navigating through the confusion they face. The audience is first introduced to him through a bar fight, leaving no room for subtlety in his portrayal. He embodies the traits of a rugged and pragmatic individual, covered in sweat and dirt from the outback. Meanwhile, Lady Sarah is depicted as delicate and refined. As expected, their relationship is tumultuous. However, it also brings out new aspects in each of them – tenderness in the drover and stoicism with a hint of wildness in Lady Sarah. Despite having more opportunities to develop, their romance comes across as generic and lacking depth. It remains one-dimensional throughout the story.
This could still provide entertainment without much consequence. However, there is a separate issue. Lady Sarah has developed strong feelings for the charismatic Indigenous Australian child, Nullah (Brandon Walters). Through Nullah, we are prompted to contemplate the history of the land and the destiny of its first inhabitants. Unfortunately, Luhrmann’s portrayal of his minority ethnic characters is just as unconvincing as in the original movie. In fact, considering the increasing focus on representation since the release of Australia, the superficiality of these characters is even more unacceptable now.
The opening statement by Reconciliation Australia in each episode, recognizing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of the land, may have good intentions but comes across as insincere given the content of the show. The character Nullah is still portrayed in a stereotypical and submissive manner, and the dynamic between the main characters and Indigenous people has a hint of the “white saviour” complex. In light of Australia’s rejection of the Indigenous Voice referendum, this is particularly problematic. The representation of Indigenous peoples in the show relies heavily on tired and overused storytelling techniques.
Luhrmann is heavily influenced by the concept of creating a grand cinematic experience, emphasizing spectacle. Unfortunately, this approach causes him to overlook the small details that bring stories to life. The film ultimately feels like an unsuccessful attempt at being grandiose. The resulting series is just as expansive and lacking in substance as the country it portrays. Ultimately, size does not equate to quality.
Faraway Downs is on Disney+.