I'm sure I've said previously that I'm none too keen on Australian movies -- mainly because I have a hard time understanding the accent. However when there is a subtitle option, I am happy to give them a go and I'm certainly glad that I did so to view the above film. It's a purportedly simple story of a seventyish man who has learned that he has incurable stomach cancer and a scant six month to live.
Michael Caton, a veteran Aussie character actor on the big and small screen, plays Rex, the local taxi-driver in Broken Hill, New South Wales. His has been a simple and unrewarding life with its daily slog, his love-hate relationship with the aboriginal woman, Polly, who lives across the way, and his nightly pint(s) with his drinking cronies. He is reluctant to confide his plight to any of them, but when he learns that euthanasia is about to be legalised up in Darwin, he takes off in his cab to make the 2000 kilometre journey. He doesn't want to end his days in a hospital and is too afraid to take his own life. Doctor Farmer's (Jackie Weaver's) heralded euthanasia machine looks to be the answer and he announces that he is on his way. He can not bring himself to say goodbye to anyone, but speeds off, having left his mutt and his house in Polly's care.
Dr Farmer tells him to keep in touch during the trip and to stay hydrated -- so he promptly purchases a six-pack. There are ups and downs along the way, including being robbed by Michael Coles Smith's Tilly, a would-be aboriginal football star, who soon becomes Rex's helpmate and companion. In the back of beyond they are joined by Emma Hamilton's Julia, an English ex-pat nurse working as a barmaid, who quits her job after initially fancying Tilly (despite his being a 'blackfella') and who subsequently helps look after Rex when he takes a turn for the worse. Not having heard from the taxi driver, the good doctor has alerted the publicity machine and soon the whole country is aware of his epic journey.
When the threesome eventually reach Darwin, they learn that Farmer's famed machine is not yet ready for use and that not only is she waiting for final government approval, but that Rex must first be examined by a psychiatrist and an oncologist. He passes the psych exam with flying colours (sample question: "Do you have a pet?" "Yes a dog." "What's his name?" "Dog, since 'Rex' was taken!") But he's far from thrilled with the delay since his remaining days are fast retreating and another bad turn has landed him in a dreaded hospital. Julie helps him escape and back at Farmer's surgery she hooks him up to the machine, where death would come when he punches three 'yeses' into a computer. However, with seconds to spare, he pulls the needle from his arm. He know what he needs to do. He makes the return journey to Broken Hill to put things right with Polly (a tetchy but charismatic Ningali Lawford) whom he has loved for years. He may be on his last legs, but he has finally worked out what really matters in life.
This road journey movie gives one a real feel for the varied outback scenery and is not afraid to touch upon the ingrained white prejudices on frequent display. Weaver might be the only well-known name in the cast after her Oscar nomination, but she is the least impressive of the main players. Lawford, Smith and Hamilton all do ace work, but it is Caton who manages to emotionally involve the viewer in the fate of a man who has lived an ordinary life, accepting what may be may be, until our tears swell by the film's end.