Film an ‘unforgettable experience’
Thursday, 16th July, 2015
By Darrin Manuel
Watching a man drive 3000km to commit suicide may sound like an unlikely way to spend an evening, but actor Michael Caton and director Jeremy Sims use this premise to deliver an unforgettable experience in the new film ‘Last Cab To Darwin’.
Caton gives his most engaging performance since ‘The Castle’ as Rex, a sheltered Broken Hill taxi driver who embarks on a quest to end his life after discovering advanced stomach cancer has left him with just three months to live.
The movie is an adaptation of Reg Cribbs’ play of the same name, and sees Rex desperately trying to make his way to Northern Territory to take advantage of euthanasia laws that were briefly enacted in the mid 1990s.
Caton’s portrayal of an ageing loner from decades past is impeccable. He appears unkempt, rudderless, and utterly content as he downs schooners with his mates at the All Nations Hotel.
His world is soon shattered when he learns of the seriousness of his health condition, however, and he abandons his home, his dog, and his “on the sly” Aboriginal girlfriend and neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) in an effort to avoid his perceived indignity of dying in hospital.
He picks up new friends and travelling partners along the way including affable rogue Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), and English nurse-turned-barmaid Julie (Emma Hamilton).
As the journey progresses Rex is opened up to new experiences and relationships he has never known, and as he learns more about the world he also begins to understand more about himself.
Once he reaches Darwin and euthanasia advocate Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver), Rex is forced to truly come to grips with the reality - and finality - of his decision.
His journey to the Territory has been one of personal transformation, and he must now grapple with the option of ending the new life he has just discovered.
Rex’s metamorphosis is expertly handled by Caton in a role that director Jeremy Sims believes should earn the Australian icon global acclaim.
Sims praised Caton’s professionalism and dedication to the role, and said his appearance as a dishevelled, road-weary motorist looks especially authentic in the movie for good reason.
“He drove that car himself the whole way, and we really knew when we started that if we didn’t do that drive for real, we wouldn’t get that feel,” said Sims.
“He’s in every scene, he was on set every day from dawn to dusk.
“There’s a review in one of the international papers saying this film should do for Michael Caton what Animal Kingdom did for Jacki Weaver, and it should really - he’s a world-class film actor and we were just in awe of his work the whole way through.
“All I had to do really was spend time telling him just to trust that he didn’t need to push any of Rex’s personality, that it was all there.
“(Rex) is a very taciturn and quiet man, and Michael kept himself to himself on the trip and he gave this beautifully nuanced and touching performance.
“I think first of all, people are going to be amazed at how good he is, and second of all, they’re going to really take this character to heart in the same they way took his character to heart in The Castle, but in a very different way.”
Caton is brilliantly supported by Lawford-Wolf and Smith who light up the screen with challenging and charismatic performances.
“We had a great time casting this... we’re really lucky to have those guys,” said Sims.
“People forget with Aboriginal actors, they often think they’re just cast as who they are but both Mark and Ningali play very different characters to who they really are.”
The central themes of death and euthanasia loom large throughout the film but are adequately countered by plenty of dry humour from the cast.
The movie does not shy away from other serious social issues affecting indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike, but at the same time passes no judgement.
It has forthright depictions of racism, alcoholism, and violence in remote areas but doesn’t sacrifice the film’s direction in favour of social commentary.
“The most important thing is we didn’t want it to be didactic,” said Sims.
“Reg and I and the film makers all have political views and we all have things we’d like people to think about, but my experience is people don’t think about things if you tell them in a domineering way what they should think.
“So we wanted the issues - there’s euthanasia, racism, community, and all sorts of things - in this film. There’s even the theme of the ‘old Australia’ dying in it.
“What we wanted was to make all those issues prevalent and there to be discussed, but we didn’t want anyone to know exactly where we stood on all of them.
“And we’re really pleased that most of the reviews that are coming out are saying that euthanasia is in the film, but it’s not about it. Racism is in the film, but it’s not about it.
“In the end it’s a personal story about Rex - it’s a love story, and so I’m really happy with the how the balance has come out, and that balance is tricky to pull off.
“That script took seven years of work to get it to the point where it was delicately and finely balanced, and could be entertaining as well as all of the other things.”
Sims isn’t the only one happy with the finished product, with Australian and international reviewers lauding the film.
“Sims wrings gentle pleasures from this most unlikely of subjects,” says Hollywood Reporter’s Harry Windsor, while Screen International’s Sarah Ward calls it a balance of “sentiment, wry comedy and debate” and Variety’s Eddie Cockrell’s describes it as a “thoughtful, culturally authentic road trip.”
Perhaps more important however has been the reaction of Australian audiences, who have taken an instant liking to Rex and can relate to the film’s central themes.
“We’re two weeks into a promotional tour around the country doing preview screenings and Q&A, and audiences are standing up and saying it feels like we made this film for them,” said Sims.
“Everyone has a story of someone close to them dying, everyone has a sense that Australian identity is slipping away, so we’re finding really strong responses and the film is getting standing ovations
“We’ve had amazing reviews from all the overseas newspapers, and all four-star reviews here. We couldn’t be happier.
“We’re going out on a wide relase, which is really rare for a film of our scale.
“We’re going to be out there with all the Hollywood products, and that’s a testament to Icon’s faith in the film and all the people that worked on it, so we’re really excited.”
Last Cab To Darwin will premiere at the Silver City Cinema tonight at 7pm, and will be followed by a Q&A session with Michael Caton.