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