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Review: Last Cab To Darwin

Heather Wallace

Rex is a loner, and when he’s told he doesn’t have long to live, he embarks on an epic drive through the Australian outback from Broken Hill to Darwin to die on his own terms (IMDB).

The first thing you need to now about seeing Last Cab To Darwin is that you’ll probably cry. The next thing to know is that shouldn’t stop you seeing this film.

Rex (Michael Caton) is a Broken Hill cabbie who knows everyone in town. Everyone knows each other’s secrets but no one says anything about them. Rex has a secret: he’s dying of stomach cancer and only has three months to live. Despite a relationship with his neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf), he feels alone and doesn’t want to burden anyone. After hearing a radio interview with Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver) about the Northern Territory government allowing euthanasia, he gets into his cab and starts the 3000km drive to be the first person to die in her clinic.

Based on a 2003 stage play of the same name, director Jeremy Sims (still best known for his role in the early 90s Australian soap opera, Chances) and the play’s original writer Reg Cribb had always imagined the story being adapted for the screen.

The film is inspired by the true story of taxi driver Max Bell who was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and drove the same distance to seek assistance from Dr Philip Nitschke’s voluntary euthanasia clinic.

The image of a yellow taxi driving through the Australian outback is striking. Along the way Rex meets Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a charming and sometimes feckless young Oodnadatta man who is running away from his own problems, and British nurse Julie (Emma Hamilton), who leaves her job as a bartender to care for Rex.

For all its subject matter there is a lot of humour, albeit very, very dark humour. Be warned that it shows the Pussy Willow, an actual tree near South Australian town William Creek where dead feral cats are hung to raise awareness of the devastation they cause.

Michael Caton is a standout in a dramatic role that is different to his normal ‘lovable larrikin’ screen persona. An opening scene has him making my ideal gourmet dish – devon on white bread and tomato sauce – and drunkenly daggy dancing to his collection of vintage vinyl records, but once he is given the diagnosis he is subdued.

Caton gives a performance that is even more powerful for being subdued and quiet. Every interaction he has with Polly tugs at your heart, his quiet love for her is obvious but he stumbles, scared of showing those around him he loves a fiery Aboriginal woman. His description of her smile though is spot on and Ningali Lawford-Wolf (who trained as a dancer) lights up the screen, whether she’s shouting at Rex and her family or struggling with her heartbreak at losing the man she loves.

Jackie Weaver is excellent as Dr Farmer, playing her as someone with the best of intentions and a sympathetic manner but who also has an agenda that blinds her to the real needs of the man she’s trying to help.

Mark Cole Smith deserves to be a leading man of Australian film, and just when you want to abandon Tilly, he helps you see why fear makes him continually sabotages his own successes. This is a film that has a lot to say, particularly about race relations and dying, but like its hero it says it in an understated way. It makes you feel you’re on that journey with Rex.

What it says loudest is that fear, not death, stops us from living, but it’s never too late to overcome fear.

Last Cab for Darwin is showing at Palace Electric Cinema.


Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author