Sydney Film Festival Review: Last Cab To Darwin (Australia, 2015)

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On the surface Last Cab To Darwin is not just a film about euthanasia, but a film about the people you meet on the greatest journey you take of all, living the one single life you have. A road movie that’s a drama with heart and emotion at its core and a cast of genuine characters.

Rex Macrae (Michael Caton) is a cab driver who’s spent his whole life in Broken Hill and avoiding getting close to people. Even keeping his best friend and occasional lover Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) and his drinking buddies from the pub at a distance. When Rex is diagnosed with terminal cancer he doesn’t want to rely on anyone, especially Polly. So he decides to take his cab and drive 3000 kilometres to Darwin where the newly passed Euthanasia laws might enable him to end his life with dignity. But along the way Rex soon discovers that a life alone is a life not lived and that his journey has now enabled him to re-evaluate and to appreciate what’s left of it.

One of the interesting things about this film is how it shifts the focus about euthanasia and the right to die, to being more of a celebration of life, love in its many forms and the idea of belonging and the people in our lives. Director and co-writer Jeremy Sims teams up with co-writer Reg Cribb and loosely based the film on the true story of Max Bell, who in the 1990’s drove his cab from Broken Hill to Darwin to try to partake in the briefly introduced euthanasia laws. There were also some elements taken from the story of Bob Dent, the first man to die from a legal voluntary lethal injection in the Northern Territory in 1996. However both Sims and Cribb felt that the story had to have more heart and emotion, and be less clinical and not a biographical depiction of either Bell or Dent.

Rex is a stubborn older man who he, along with his mates are the epitome of the tough Aussie battler. A real blokey-bloke, the kind who tells his mates he’s dying but gets a “she’ll be right” and a shrug off in response. There’s something warm and familiar and realistic about these men, all toughened on the outside but absolutely terrified of the unknown deep down, and Rex just wants things to be simple but they’re far from it. Some of the scenes of Rex silently driving with the countryside whizzing past speak way more than any dialogue could or should. A man contemplating life and death simultaneously. And Caton’s performance makes Rex such a beautiful character to watch onscreen with his subtle facial expressions and tired physicality.
Lawford-Wolf brings a fierce but funny portrayal of a woman who in some ways is identical to Rex in her stubbornness but also in their shared need for love and companionship in Polly. On Rex’s journey he meets Tilly (Mark Coles Smith) a young Indigenous man from Oodnadatta who ends up joining him on his trip to Darwin. Tilly is an example of the wasted potential in his youth, lacking in self-confidence and unable to break free from the expectations of family or the lure of alcohol or being trapped in isolated country towns. Another all too real portrayal of a member of society we’ve seen or even met regardless of race. Smith endows Tilly with a lot good natured humour but also the conflict of a young man wanting to be and do so much more with life but unsure of how to go about achieving it.

Another less obvious character is the landscape and the scenery in this film. Sometimes when you watch a movie like this you’re reminded of how big and beautiful our country is. The countryside and the rural towns are all so gorgeous and earthy. The rich and vibrant colours of our desert heartland is vivid and this is all beautifully captured onscreen. And to accompany all these visuals is a gorgeous soundtrack composed and performed by Ed Kuepper. Adding yet more of a quintessential Australiana feel to the film.

Regardless of where you sit with the debate on euthanasia, one thing we can all agree on is that when we share our lives with others we are so much richer for it. Sims and Cribb have managed to succeed in delivering this message and Caton is far and away the man to carry the portrayal of our hero Rex. Make sure you bring your tissues to this one coz it will be sure to make you shed a few tears from laughter and sadness.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 123 minutes

Last Cab To Darwin is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival, with sessions held on Sunday 7 June and Sunday 14 June, for more info and tickets click here.

Last Cab To Darwin will release in Australian cinemas on 6th August 2015 through Icon Films.