Last night I saw a film that will probably never win at the Oscars or make a great splash outside this country, but if you like a truly human story where no one tries to show you sweeping shots, grand emotions or cleverly airbrushed interactions between people, then Last Cab to Darwin is absolutely for you. It is a fairly recent Australian release (2015) which is based on a true storyand includes a sprinkling of very locally known actors.
The casting is typically Aussie, with the biggest name beside the hero being John Howard who plays a out of shape drinker who is having it off with the local bar maid. The hero Rex if he can be called that, is a taxi driver from Broken Hill who hears he has only months to live. He takes this with typically blokey reticence. He finds out around the same time that euthanasia has just become legal in Darwin which is roughly two thousand kilometres away to the north. Rex is played by Aussie comedian Michael Caton who shines with restraint in the role. Without saying much to his mates at the pub or to his Aboriginal neighbour Polly who is the closest thing he has ever had to a relationship, he decides to drive himself to Darwin. In any case he does not intend to listen to their arguments about how hard the journey will be on him in his condition.
On the way he picks up an Aboriginal larrikin Tilly who could have played for Essendon (Go Bombers!) but chose to hide his talent behind early fatherhood, alcohol and a wicked sense of humour, and a British nurse Emma who has escaped London because she wanted to see some sun. When the trio arrive in Darwin, it appears that assisted killing is still not as easy as it sounded over the radio in faraway Broken Hill. Weeks pass while the doctor tries to get all the paper work cleared.
Having lived in Darwin for a few very happy years, I simply drank up all the scenes shot in that city – Marrara Oval, the bunkers at East Point, the sunset markets at Mindil, crowd shots at Knuckey Street! As they wait, Tilly gets another chance at kicking the big time but loses his nerve yet again – disappearing into the long grass with his new mob to drink himself into a stupor from a goon bag (foil insert of a wine cask).
When Rex tries to reason with him he lashes back at Rex asking him why he couldn’t just have killed himself in Broken Hill. Without giving away the whole story, I can tell you, once you get over the sardonic humour and the near constant use of the F word ( less often than Pulp Fiction and oddly never offensive to my ears at least), this is a story of people finding out what is important in life.
There is some very sensitive treatment of the black and white history and the situation of Aboriginal people in Australia which is helped enormously by the very likeable Tilly.
At the very end the film leaves us with a shot of Rex back in Broken Hill, sitting with Polly, finally holding hands openly and looking as if he has finally found the peace anyone deserves as he waits for death.
Try to see the film. Chances are you will not find it completely unbearable, mate!
(Michael Caton as Rex the cabbie, surveying the track Oodnadatta way)