July 8, 2016

Last Cab to Darwin grim yet glorious

Ken Eisner / Georgia Straight

The subject of Last Cab to Darwin might be pretty downbeat. Still, grimness doesn’t dominate this gloriously shot road trip, which covers 2,000 kilometers of Australian outback and big swathes of the country’s psychic geography, as well.

For screenwriter Reg Cribb and writer-director Jeremy Sims, Darwin follows their homegrown hit Last Train to Freo, from 10 years ago. Darwin is adapted from Cribb’s stage play, but it’s mostly a pictorial mood-setter, with blood-red desert sunsets and golden-hour river swims backgrounding a career-high performance from The Castle’s Michael Caton.

He plays taxi-driving Reg, who has never left the dried-up mining town of Broken Hill, in New South Wales, nor has he ever started a family. So there’s no one to consult when his stomach cancer is found too late to save him. Sure, there’s his neighbour Polly (Rabbit-Proof Fence’s Ningali Lawford-Wolf), an aboriginal woman he sometimes shares a bed with, although he keeps this a secret from his mates at the local pub—where, shockingly, they still don’t serve “blackfellas”, as Polly puts it.

When Reg hears about a doctor up north (Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver) who’s fighting for the rights of sick people to die with dignity, he cleans up his cab and heads for Darwin. Along the way, he hooks up with a handsome young, mixed-race drifter called Tilley (movie-stealing Mark Coles Smith) who, despite being quite trouble-prone himself, helps Reg navigate the indigenous reaches of central Australia.

At two hours, the movie feels a bit overstuffed with issues and plot contrivances; how handy to run into a beautiful English nurse (The Tudors’ Emma Hamilton) before hitting Darwin! But the actors never let artifice get in the way of the movie’s deep well of human feeling. That acoustic-guitar score is mighty nice, too.

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