Film review: LAST CAB TO DARWIN, from ‘Built For Speed’

Last Cab to Darwin was originally a stage play by author Reg Cribb who also wrote The Return which became the film Last Train to Freo.  Freo was adapted to the big screen by Jeremy Sims in 2006 and stands as one of those infuriating films that is terrific most of the way through then loses it horribly in the last act.   Consequently, this reviewer had some trepidation about Sims directing Last Cab to Darwin but while this is flawed film, it is still a sensitive story of redemption and self-discovery and one of the better Australian films of recent times.

Michael Caton stars as Rex a grumpy, ageing taxi driver in Broken Hill who has never married and mostly prefers his own company. His connection to society comes through his drinking buddies David Field and John Howard and Polly (Ningali Lawford) the indigenous woman across the road with whom he verbally spars each morning and whose picture he keeps in his taxi. When Rex learns he has terminal cancer and has only months to live he’s faced with the choice of palliative care of which he wants no part, or heading to Darwin where a doctor (Jackie Weaver) offers legal, medically-assisted euthanasia.  As Rex journeys to Darwin he encounters boisterous and troubled young indigenous man Tilly (Mark Coles Smith) and an attractive young English nurse Julie (Emma Hamilton) who has also sought an escape in Australia’s vast open spaces.

Inevitably some of the subject matter is quite grim particularly as the film explores the notion of medically assisted death but this film mostly strives for a positive vibe.  This means, however, that at times Sims is uncertain whether he wants the film to be a confronting drama or quirky Aussie comedy. In addition to exploring the contentious issue of euthanasia the film also touches on the issues of race relations as the disillusioned Tilly attempts to resurrect his football career and his life.

Thankfully, the film features strong performances from the entire cast which helps it negotiate tonal problems. The much-loved Michael Caton exudes his usual gruff larrikin charm as the no-nonsense rough diamond Rex but he also adds a moving touch of melancholy. Jacqui Weaver convincingly portrays someone grappling with the moral dilemmas of a cause to which she has committed herself. Emma Hamilton gives  a moving performance as a virtual surrogate daughter to Rex while Mark Coles Smith provides a terrific bolt of energy as the ebullient Tilly.

The film also looks great.  Shot in brown and orange tones by Steve Arnold the film vividly captures the vast, dry dusty landscape of outback Australia.

Last Cab to Darwin is slow in places and at nearly two hours could have been trimmed but for most of its length it’s a thoughtful and moving touching drama.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jeremy Sims.

Release date: 6th Aug 2015.

Running time: 124 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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