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Last Cab to Darwin

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Stars Michael Caton and Jacki Weaver

Michael Caton is best known as Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle, a role that shot him into Australian popular culture. Looking a lot older, he is magnificent as Rex who embarks on a journey to Darwin on a mission to euthanise himself after discovering he is terminally ill. Caton plays a taxi driver who has spent his entire life in Broken Hill. He complains to his neighbour and lover Polly (a wonderful Ningali Lawford-Wolf) that he can’t keep his food down. The scene prior to that we observe him alone at home dancing to vinyl records while drinking Coopers and munching on a spam sandwich. A trip to the hospital reveals it’s not the yeast and faux-meat in Rex’s diet that’s causing problems, per se, but stomach cancer. The gruff old feller is told he has only a few months of painful living left; he responds with a line about how he doesn’t want no hospitals and will keep driving his taxi until the day he dies. And this is his mission: to die. A euthanasia advocate, Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver, as a gentler take on Dr Philip Nitschke, has developed a new machine that administers death literally at the press of a button. Rex says goodbye to Polly and the local barflies and takes to the road, picking up a couple of travellers on the way. There’s Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a spritely but unstable Indigenous man with hopes of pursuing a career in the AFL and Julie (Emma Hamilton), an English backpacker and qualified nurse who quits her job at a remote pub after coming to the aid of a sick and getting sicker Rex. Director Jeremy Sims falls into a predictable habit of offsetting dark moments with light ones (and vice versa) to the point at which we start to second guess on occasions. A happy scene with smiles and laughs, for example, usually leads to a sad one reminding us of the protagonist’s fading health. When the film’s script (adapted from Reg Cribb’s play, which premiered in 2003 and was inspired by a true story) takes on the euthanasia debate it begins to feel a little muddled. This is most apparent in the characterisation of Dr Farmer, who Sims is reluctant to present as a gung ho leader of a cause lest she appears like a death merchant but he also needs to give her a serious ideological position, which doesn’t quite come across. Last Cab to Darwin provides Michael Caton with a perfect fit; he is touching, tender and a little bedraggled, emoting with a worn-out visage that looks like the 71-year-old has been marinated in beer and left in the sun to dry. It’s a thought provoking film everyone should see.

Rated M 8 out of 10

Contact Garry on: garrywest@ncable.net.au