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He called it his “Red Curtain” style of movie making,requiring just a few basics-that the audience knows how the film will end when it begins...

Published:January 4, 2009 3:58 am

If big is beautiful
Australia

He called it his “Red Curtain” style of movie making,requiring just a few basics —that the audience knows how the film will end when it begins,that the storyline is extremely thin and extremely simple,it’s a heightened,created world; and that there’s dance or singing to keep the audience involved.

And then he made a departure,with Australia. Baz Luhrmann’s latest film,an epic of three-hour proportions and the costliest film ever made Down Under,is different from his previous works,and in all the wrong ways. You can guess how it will end,only every time we get there,Luhrmann finds another way to keep going; the storyline is thin and simple,but the writer-director keeps finding ways to string it along; Australia is captured in all its vastness,but is jettisoned in the final moments for war scenes that could have been shot anywhere.

As Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) comes down from England to the Outback chasing her husband who she suspects is up to no good,Luhrmann is at his best. Her incredulity,the sheer difference in the two cultures,as seen in the person of Drover (Hugh Jackman),the difficulties of an Australia riven by its own racial divide,and the harshness of nature — the director brings it out effortlessly.

Luhrmann,who belongs to Australia — like Kidman and Jackman — shows an understanding of his country tinged by a loving eye.

Luhrmann goes into domesticity,World War II and briefly skips over racialism,during which everyone is almost presumed dead. Not only does this part lack the flair and naturalness of the first half,it’s forced,weak in script and dialogue and shows up all of Jackman’s weaknesses. He can be dashing,he can be funny,but he can’t be a moaning lover. It’s only Kidman’s star power that holds up the two parts.

Shalini Langer

Global lessons
Outsourced

Outsourced in which a Seattle call-centre manager named Todd (Josh Hamilton) is fired and then dispatched to India as a consultant to train his own replacement,is a wonderful surprise.

At first it threatens to be just another fish-out-of-water story. Director John Jeffcoat and his co-writer,George Wing,hit expected marks from the moment when a street urchin swipes the hero’s cell phone to the bit where Todd learns why Indians don’t eat with their left hand to the scene where Todd realises that his sharpest employee,an outspoken young woman named Asha (Ayesha Dharker),is gorgeous and has a crush on him.

Gratifyingly though,the filmmakers treat Todd’s story as a springboard for a smart look at the effect of cultural difference on work,friendship and love,and the global economy’s impact on national and personal identity.

Todd,being American,has no sense of himself as an American. He has an allergic reaction to Indian culture (embodied by the intestinal distress after eating local food). He is also taken aback by Indians’ emphasis on family ties and social obligations,and they in turn are politely aghast at Todd’s disconnection from his own relatives.

Todd’s trainee,the polite,40-ish Puro (Asif Basra),lives with his parents and is surprised that Todd lives alone and rarely visits his own mother. He insists that Todd forgo his prearranged hotel room and stay in his home,where his mom cooks up a storm and grills Todd on why he isn’t married yet.

But during an impulsive trip to a McDonald’s knockoff that doesn’t serve beef,he meets a fellow American (Larry Pine,in a brilliant cameo) who advises him: “I was resisting India. Once I gave in,I did much better.” Todd has an epiphany while wading into a local water tank (photographed,with cross-cultural wit,to suggest a baptism).

In its modest way,Outsourced may be a charming culture-clash romance that could be taught in business schools.

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ/ NYT

Kiss kiss vroom vroom
Redline

High rollers bet on car races along the Los Angeles-Las Vegas corridor; an Iraq veteran (Nathan Phillips) returns home to find his brother in trouble with a counterfeiter; a singer (Nadia Bjorlin) raised near a racecourse takes a driving gig to secure a record deal; she is coerced into driving for the crook; the ex-soldier must liberate her.

The movie is not about redefining cinematic narrative. But this film is about surfaces,for young men with testosterone to burn,and the racing passages snap. The director,Andy Cheng,opts for a punchy neon palette,and the editing,by Dallas Puett and David Blackburn,is breathless. The camera’s intimacy with vehicles at rocket velocity is striking. The cars look terrific but don’t stand still long enough to let us admire them.

ANDY WEBSTER/ NYT

Mythical blues
Honeydripper

That cultural harbinger,Sonny Blake (Gary Clark Jr),is an itinerant,freight-train-hopping young guitar wiz with no particular place to go,who stops off at the sleepy little town of Harmony,Alabama. His instrument,cut from a solid woodblock and lacking a sound hole,emits rock ‘n’ roll lightning at the Honeydripper,a dilapidated roadhouse on the verge of going out of business. Don’t go rushing to your rock encyclopedias for confirmation that any of this is scrupulously factual. John Sayles,who wrote,directed and edited Honeydripper,is primarily interested in fusing archetypes from the Jim Crow South,both black and white,with mythic dimensions.

Honeydripper is agreeable,well-intentioned and very,very slow. Sadly,it illustrates the difference between an archetype and a stereotype. When the first falls flat,it turns into the other and becomes a cliché.

STEPHEN HOLDEN/ NYT

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