LAST CAB TO DARWIN
Director: Jeremy Sims
Screenwriters: Jeremy Sims and Reg Cribb
Mark Coles Smith
Runtime: 124 mins.
Australian release date: 6 August 2015
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 15 July 2015
Films about death and how we approach it have been around almost as long as cinema itself but I suspect we’re in for a lot more as the ‘baby boomer’ generation approaches the end of its allotted timespan… particularly films about euthanasia.
In recent weeks I’ve seen two: Danish director Bille August’s moving Silent Heart and now this Australian effort by Jeremy Sims, Last Cab To Darwin. Both are excellent, though approaching their subject from very different perspectives. In Sims’s movie there is much humour as well as poignancy when Broken Hill taxi driver Rex MacRae (Michael Caton) hits the road to take advantage of Darwin’s legalized euthanasia regulations after he is told that he only has a few months to live. Rex has a lover across the street (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) and a bunch of drinking buddies but he’s always maintained his independence, not wanting to rely on anyone but himself and his faithful mutt, Dog. Thus, when he learns of his terminal illness it’s only natural that he doesn’t share the dread news with his friends, but keeps it to himself. He doesn’t even tell them he’s leaving Broken Hill for the first time in his life.
Of course, no 3000 kilometre drive through the Australian outback is going to be entirely uneventful and Rex meets up with Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a young Arabana man from Oodnadatta and English backpacker Julie (Emma Hamilton), who both join him on his epic journey. Needless to say, as the three learn each other’s stories their relationship changes and their lives begin to impact on one another, so by the time they hit Darwin they’ve become a kind of blended family. It’s there that they meet Dr. Nicole Farmer (Jacki Weaver), the medico who will be responsible for Rex’s demise; it’s also where Rex must face up to himself and the fact that Darwin Rex is no longer the same as the Broken Hill Rex who set out on the long drive of no return.
“This film has been a long time in the making. I know everyone says this but this one truly has… Reg Cribb and I drove to Broken Hill and then on to Darwin researching the story back in 2001, so that’s 13 years,” says director/co-writer Sims. “We began work on the screenplay more than eight years ago,” he continues; “Reg and I spent many, many drafts refining the story, finding the tone, over many years.” This explains why this film is a cut above many other Aussie films and why Last Cab To Darwin will feature heavily when awards’ season rolls around. Too many local scripts get financed too early in their development and it shows. This screenplay feels ‘real’- you can believe the characters speaking the way they do and saying the things they say.
It’s helped by the extraordinarily subtle performance of Caton, whose craggy, lived-in face tells you all you need to know about this quiet man. Mark Coles Smith is a revelation and a delight to watch as the outgoing but troubled Tilly and the London-based but Melbourne-born Hamilton makes Julie come alive with natural ease. Supporting cast members David Field, John Howard and Alan Dukes flesh out their small roles with verve and confidence. Strangely, Jacki Weaver is the only actor in the film to seem slightly uncomfortable in her character’s shoes and she doesn’t convince as the border-line obsessive Dr. Farmer. Tech credits are uniformly excellent: Steve Arnold’s largely static camera-work suits the locations and the mood and Ed Kuepper’s score and song selection add authenticity and a sense of period.
Hop in! You won’t want to miss this cab.