Cancer, euthanasia and a cab driver. It sounds like the unholy trinity of filmmaking. A veritable recipe for disaster with the dreaded terms “Australian film” and “indigenous issues” added for good measure.
Yet there is something magnificent about the way in which writers Reg Gribb and Jeremy Sims (who also directs) have not merely overcome any supposed restrictions born of their complex subject matter. Rather they have embraced the wealth of characters and colour that come with them, to deliver a unique, powerful but above all entertaining Australian road movie – a surprisingly sparse genre for such a car-obsessed nation.
Michael Caton is magnetic as Rex, a Broken Hill cabbie who doesn’t give advice and has never left town. Faced with incurable stomach cancer he volunteers to drive 3,000 km to become the first subject for Jacki Weaver’s assisted death machine, legalised under new Northern Territory euthanasia laws.
While the film deals with that subject well – highlighting the personal ordeal involved for even the most “perfect” subject – it is the physical journey undertaken by Rex along with young Aboriginal footballer Tilly (Mark Coles Smith) and English nurse Julie (Emma Hamilton) that makes up the substantive heart and time of the movie. They are a terrific trio full of life and energy.
If Last Cab to Darwin has a fault, it is an almost self-deprecating sense of hiding its smarts and skill too well. This is an elegantly-crafted film that almost errs on the side of subtlety. Yet this deft touch makes for a captivating experience, in the same way a whisper can make a listener lean in.
Last Cab to Darwin is a classy treatise on tough subjects, a beautiful postcard for an underexposed part of Australia, but mostly a truly wonderful ride, start to finish.
‘Last Cab to Darwin’ Movie Times