STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The big Thanksgiving movies open today. And as always, the studios are hoping to sell a lot of tickets over the long weekend. Our film critic Kenneth Turan reviews one of those movies, "Australia."

KENNETH TURAN: With a story this big, it's no wonder they named it after a continent. It's the circa-1939 story of what happens when Nicole Kidman's British aristocrat takes over an Australian cattle ranch and locks horns with Hugh Jackman. He plays a character who's so iconic, he's known only as The Drover.

(Soundbite of movie "Australia")

Ms. NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) Mr. Drover, I need to speak to you…

Mr. HUGH JACKMAN: (As Drover) Where the hell are all the bloody stockmen, eh?

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) That's what I need to speak to you about.

Mr. HUGH JACKMAN: (As Drover) Where's Fletcher?

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) We disagreed, and I dismissed him.

Mr. JACKMAN: (As Drover) Dismissed?

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) Yes.

Mr. JACKMAN: (As Drover) What about the cattle?

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) Well, it beggars belief. But as he was leaving, he deliberately let the cows out of the - I don't know, whatever you call it. And they ran off.

Mr. JACKMAN: (As Drover) Damn! Do you realize, woman, what you've done? I won't get another drove this late in the season, right. You've cost me my living.

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) Please, can't you just round them up?

TURAN: But "Australia" is not just any blockbuster. It's filtered through the sensibility of director Baz Luhrmann whose last film was the dizzying "Moulin Rouge." Luhrmann is a lover of artifice and excess. Luhrmann also wanted to make a deeply Australian film to bend the norms of Hollywood filmmaking to the task of telling the story of his own country, his own way. "Australia" pays attention to aboriginal rituals and culture and to the plight of the stolen generations, the mixed race and aboriginal children who were removed from their families and raised in mission schools.

(Soundbite of movie "Australia")

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) Help me, somebody please help me.

Unidentified Actress: You've got to help her.

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) Help me. This is my child.

Unidentified Actor #1: I understand what you're saying.

(Soundbite of woman crying)

Unidentified Actor #1: You don't have an essential job. You must evacuate...

Mr. BRANDON WALTERS: (As Nullah) Mrs. Boss, don't let them take me away.

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Sarah Ashley) I will come and find you, whatever happens, whatever it takes. We'll be together again, I promise.

Mr. WALTERS: (As Nullah) I believe you, Mrs. Boss.

TURAN: That boy, named Nullah, is the film's narrator. Nullah's life is hard, but he takes Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" as a kind of personal anthem. It becomes Australia's anthem as well. And its tribute to a place where dreams that you dare to dream really do come true couldn't be a better fit for this big dreaming film.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for Morning Edition and The Los Angeles Times. You'll find reviews of Gus Van Sant's biographical picture of "Milk" plus "Transporter 3" and more at our holiday blockbuster of a Web site, npr.org. It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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