Michael Caton is superb in Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin.
This uncompromisingly Australian film is the perfect vehicle for an iconic Aussie character, and that is exactly what the actor delivers.
Caton is Rex, Broken Hill’s only cab driver, who is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and told he has only a few months to live. Not wanting to die a slow, painful death, Rex decides to drive his cab to Darwin, where a euthanasia campaigning doctor is on the brink of gaining a breakthrough with the Northern Territory Government to allow her to assist in the ending of life.
Before he can undertake his epic journey, Rex has to break the news to his long-time, if part-time, partner Polly (superbly played by Ningali Lawford-Wolf), as well as his buddies from down the local pub. Rex and his mates have never left Broken Hill; they’ve never even seen the ocean, we discover later.
Along his journey, Rex joins forces with Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), an Indigenous lad once drafted to AFL team Essendon, who is fighting inner demons familiar to many who get the opportunity to break out of their repressive but familiar life. The fear of success/failure taunts Tilly and thwarts him at every turn, it seems.
Later, the pair become involved with a British nurse (Emma Hamilton), who is in Australia on a backpacking/working holiday. Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver) rounds out the main cast as the euthanasia-advocating doctor who sees Rex’s plight as a great opportunity to focus media attention on her own aspirations.
The main themes explored through Rex’s journey deal with discovery of life, love, mateship and family values. Other issues like inter-racial relationships, exploitation, unwanted celebrity, political manoeuvring and euthanasia are also addressed with skill, good taste, respect and a decent dash of real Aussie humour.
Wonderful Aboriginal actors Coles Smith and Lawford-Wolf could have easily stolen the show if it wasn’t for the powerful, sympathetic performance of Caton. The end result is a tremendous ensemble effort which is well directed by Sims, who successfully interprets the true story on which screenwriter Reg Cribb’s original play was based.
Last Cab to Darwin stakes a strong claim to join the ranks of the very best Australian films ever made, thanks to a believable portrayal of its characters and their various relationships. Special mention must also go to the amazing Australian outback landscape, so brilliantly captured here, and the thoughtful soundtrack by Ed Kuepper.
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