Australians love road movies. Sure, they may scare off the tourists a bit, and maybe they don’t always make sense, but by gosh, do we love them. It’s something to do with the journey, and never much about the destination. Maybe it’s the fact we can all relate to the vast distances travelled by car, of trying to fill in the empty spaces with endless rounds of iSpy, or getting to know that guy you paid $50 in fuel for to drive you to Wollongong so well you’re best friends by the end of the whole thing. Road movies tap into the Australian culture in a way, arguably, no other film genre can, and they’re consistently one of the most successful film genres on the international box office.
It’s no surprise then, after the insane cinematography of our last road film, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jeremy Sims and Reg Cribb chose to focus on the emotional journey of the elderly Rex in their latest film, Last Cab to Darwin.
Starring Michel Caton as Rex, the film opens with Rex and Polly (Ningali Lawford Wolf), his neighbour, having a typical argument over rubbish bins and his dog. Set in the rural city of Broken Hill during the height of the city’s mining boom of the 1960s-90s, it’s a typical ‘small town’. Location-wise, Broken Hill has been the underrated star of numerous road films, such as Mad Max 2, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Mission Impossible II, with its vast plains and remote location, it’s been the metropolitan pit stop for numerous outback adventurers travelling onward into the Northern Territory.
As the arguments fade off, Polly brings Rex his breakfast and the two sit out on the porch. After a moment, it’s revealed they’re holding hands. It’s the telling signal that this the start of a movie that doesn’t say what it really means. It’s filtered with social and political statements of the 1990s and equipped with a stubborn and proud Australian identity that a life in the Outback seems to foster. When Rex is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, the cab driver decides to take this illness into his own hands and drives to Darwin to take advantage of the euthanasia laws there.
Rex is a simple man at heart: he’s got a modest weatherboard shack, a local watering hole he calls his other home, and his taxi. He’s seventy, remembers all his customers and has been drinking with friends he’s known since he was in high school. The film sets up for the trip to Darwin to be wrought with some serious emotional growth, and you’re delivered just that. Fans of Caton’s previous work, notably cult classic The Castle, may be a little disappointed in the lack of humour used to downplay the serious themes of this film, but otherwise Caton delivers a solid performance.
Along the way, Rex meets Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a young indigenous boy, and Julie (Emma Hamilton) a British backpacker working as a bartender. They’re both seeking something from Rex, but are equally happy in sharing their own stories with him – as the tagline of the movie suggests: before you can end your life, you have to live it, and to live it, you have to share it.
The film is adapted from the 2003 Australian stage play written by Reg Cribb and based upon the true story of taxi driver, Max Bell, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the early 1990s. In the past, Cribb stated he could always see the award-winning story adapted for the big screen, and with the combination of fantastic actors, a great script and beautiful cinematography, it has all the key elements to be a genre success.
Cinematically, it’s wonderful. It’s hard to produce a bad film aesthetic-wise when you’re working in the Australian outback. The colour palette of the land lends itself so easily to a wide range of films without ever seeming overdone. Notable performances in this film other than Caton himself is: Mark Coles Smith, a young indigenous boy with a dream to make it as a football player, and who in turn encourages Rex to live freely, and Ningali Lawford Wolf who is Rex’s big love, though she’s often neglected.
Directed and co-written by Jeremy Sims, Last Cab to Darwin, like many Australian road movies, uses Rex’s journey to discuss several ethical and moral dilemmas within Australian society. It’s a rich, soulful film about the ethics behind ending your own life and handles indigenous and white relations with sensitivity, all from the front seat of a taxi.
Last Cab to Darwin is available on DVD from December 3rd.