When a loner cabbie from Broken Hill, Rex (Michael Canton), is diagnosed with stomach cancer and given three months to live, he sets off across the outback to Darwin in the hope of ending his life on his own terms. Along the way, he encounters new friends that make him realize that in order to end his life, he must first live it.
Directed by Jeremy Sims (Beneath Hill 60), Last Cab to Darwin is based on the stage play of the same name by Reg Cribb. Much of the film bounces between picturesque outback scenes and dank pubs, instilling at times a relentless sense of fair-dinkum “Australianness”.
The performances of the entire cast are so strong that it’s hard to pinpoint an exact standout. Ningali Lawford’s (Rabbit Proof Fence) sharp-tongued Polly provides a formidable partner to Rex’s stubborn and stoic nature, while Jacki Weaver’s (Silver Linings Playbook) turn as the doctor driving the euthanasia laws brings a strong but at times callous authority. Mark Coles Smith (Beneath Hill 60) and Emma Hamilton (The Cold Light of Day) both bring warmth to their roles and provide lightness to the otherwise at times grim nature of the story.
Ultimately, it is Canton that shines the brightest, so seamlessly filling the role that it’s almost hard to think that he isn’t right now bustling for fares in Broken Hill. His experience and screen presence brings a heartwarming sense of vulnerability and strength, while still simultaneously delivering his signature dry wit.
With such genuine performances and so much heart, it’s easy to overlook the rather coincidental aspects of the plot, such as Julie conveniently turning out to be a nurse, or Tilly happening to have a recent AFL opportunity in the same place Rex was headed. The last act, while giving the impression of packing up each character’s arc in a neat manner, in reflection seems rather rushed and glossed over.
While the topic of euthanasia lies at the centre of the film, it never feels as though it is up for debate. Based on a true story and encompassing the Northern Territory’s real euthanasia laws in the nineties, the film refrains from ever really taking a side and instead lets the issue fall to the background. Even Weaver’s Dr. Farmer vaguely sways between taking on Rex’s case to ease his pain and trying to further her own cause.
The film also touches on underlying issues of racism, mainly through the interracial relationship between Rex and Polly. While racist attitudes towards Indigenous Australians are mentioned or hinted at multiple times throughout, the film never attempts to directly confront these issues, perhaps lest they inadvertently take centre stage. Rex and Polly’s story steers clear of making an issue of their relationship, which unfortunately undermines the unfolding emotions between the two.
Overall, it’s hard not to take away a more hopeful outlook on the world after witnessing what Rex discovers: there’s always something worth living for, even when you think you have nothing.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10