LAST CAB TO DAR­WIN, com­edy/drama/ro­mance, not rated, The Screen,

Pasatiempo - - STATE OF THE ARTS - Sil­ver Lin­ings Play­book), Last Hol­i­day The Straight Story, Last Cab The Straight Story

This Down Un­der charmer makes good use of the fa­mil­iar tem­plate of the old guy hit­ting the road in trou­bling cir­cum­stances and quirky con­veyances. Think of Richard Farnsworth in David Lynch’s (1999), in fail­ing health and un­der­tak­ing a last ad­ven­ture as he sets out on a long open-road jour­ney on his trac­tor mower.

In Jeremy Sims’ film, adapted with play­wright Reg Cribb from the lat­ter’s stage play, and, like de­rived from a true story, the role falls to Aussie vet­eran Michael Ca­ton. He’s Rex McRae, a cab­bie — as far as we can see, the only cab­bie — in the lit­tle town of Bro­ken Hill, New South Wales. Like Farnsworth’s char­ac­ter, Rex is up against a grim med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis: stom­ach can­cer, metas­ta­sized, and only a few weeks to live. His taxi is the ve­hi­cle in which he will take to the high­way. His des­ti­na­tion is Dar­win, three thou­sand kilo­me­ters (roughly Santa Fe to New York) away. His goal is the clinic of Dr. Ni­cole Farmer ( Jacki Weaver,

a pi­o­neer of le­gal­ized euthana­sia. Rex re­fuses to die in a hos­pi­tal.

This is to be a one-way trip, so a few things have to be sorted out be­fore he leaves. Home is a lit­tle house, a dog named Dog, his friends down at the pub, and his neigh­bor across the street. She’s Polly (Nin­gali Law­fordWolf), an abo­rig­i­nal woman, and Rex’s neigh­bor and some­times lover, when no­body is look­ing. Racism is a re­al­ity in this out­back world; when Polly comes look­ing for Rex at the pub, she scolds, “I know you don’t serve black peo­ple here, I’m not try­ing to change things.”

Rex’s road trip to Dar­win is punc­tu­ated with scenery, sun­sets, and a cou­ple of fel­low trav­el­ers. One is Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), an in­dige­nous youth who fixes Rex’s wind­shield and hitches a ride. The other is Julie (Emma Hamil­ton), a pretty young Bri­tish nurse who’s see­ing the world. Tilly’s free-spir­ited char­ac­ter makes more sense, but Julie’s med­i­cal knowhow serves a pur­pose.

The movie seems am­biva­lent in its feel­ings about euthana­sia. Once he reaches Dar­win, Dr. Farmer seems dead set on get­ting Rex hooked up to her ma­chine — so much so that he mur­murs, “Why do I get the feel­ing that woman wants me dead?” But there are forms to be com­pleted, and hur­dles to jump, be­fore that fi­nal ren­dezvous can be con­sum­mated.

Despite a few as­pects that don’t seem thor­oughly thought through (Rex be­comes a tabloid sen­sa­tion, but af­ter a brief flurry in Dar­win, the press un­ac­count­ably melts away) is ex­pertly wrought, a fine mix of sen­ti­ment and flinty crust. The mod­est love story is ap­peal­ing, the stakes are high, the heart­strings are hum­ming, and there’s no room for a twist, where the X-rays turn out to have been mixed up. Ca­ton’s tac­i­turn Rex is a lovely fel­low to take a trip with, even one to a des­ti­na­tion like this. — Jonathan Richards

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