In 1996 a middle aged man, by the name of Max Bell, discovered he had terminal cancer. So, he sold up everything and drove his cab 3,000km from Broken Hill to Darwin in order to get help to terminate his life from right to die advocate Philip Nitschke, under the newly passed Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. However, he was unsuccessful as no local specialists were willing to come forward and sign the requisite papers, so Max was forced to return to Broken Hill (not in his cab) and die in hospital . In 2003 this story was turned into a stage play, and now in 2015 we see a film adaptation of the play.
Max now goes by the name of Rex, a man who has never been far beyond the borders of the inland town of Broken Hill. He lives with his dog, called “Dog” (a name that supplies the one and only laugh of the movie ….Q. “Why is he called Dog?” A. “Rex was taken.”), but has a long standing covert relationship with his across the road neighbour, Polly, an aboriginal woman.
Rex is played by Michael Caton, not one of my favourite actors but I have to admit he was terrific in this role – bringing a range of subtle emotions to this laconic man who is racked with regrets. He is ably supported by two wonderful aboriginal actors, Ningali Lawford-Wolf (who plays Polly) and a radiant Mark Coles Smith, who plays Tilly, a multi talented but troubled young man he meets on the road. There are also familiar faces playing Rex’s band of merry mates, and a rather strange performance from Jacqui Weaver (not helped by the script, and in a bad wig) as the euthanasia advocate.
I struggled with this film. On the positive side, there were those three good performances, and the beautiful Australian outback (although at times the film looked like a Tourism Australia commercial, complete with cameos from a range of exotic wildlife, obligatory sunsets and stirring music). But, I felt there was:
- A plethora of Aussie caricatures and Australian scenic cliches. I felt like I was in a Crocodile Dundee break away film. However, some of those who saw the film with me assured me that outback Australia is heavily populated with men and women just like that. Heaven help us.
- A confusion of story lines. Was this a film about euthanasia (and even then it wimped out of that and deviated from the true story for a more feel good ending) or about black versus white Australia? I felt the film did justice to neither story. And call me just too politically correct, but I felt uncomfortable at white fellas thinking they could depict Aboriginals this way – again, it seemed very one dimensional, and it is not their story to tell.
Two and a half stars from me.