Rabbit-Proof Fence (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner07/11/2002

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 93 mins

Beautifully shot, with wonderful performances, this is a truly amazing film – heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting, its only minor problem is the top-heavy casting of Branagh.

Australian director Philip Noyce began his career, much as fellow countryman Peter Weir did, by making gritty, highly acclaimed films in his own country (such as Heatwave and Backroads) before moving to America and making a series of increasingly rubbish thrillers - from Dead Calm to The Saint to the truly awful The Bone Collector in just under a decade.

Return To Roots

For his latest film, however, he’s gone back to his roots to tell an incredible true-life story, albeit one that Australia would probably rather forget. (Though fear not, American thriller-fans – his new film The Quiet American is due out in two weeks or so).

The film is set in the Australian outback in 1930. Molly (Everlyn Sampi), her sister Gracie (Laura Monaghan) and their cousin Gracie (Tianna Sansbury) are three aborigine half-caste girls living on the Jigalong outpost – a remote depot in the middle of the outback, alongside the titular rabbit-proof fence that runs down the length of the country.

Unfortunately, a government-sponsored programme (that lasted until 1970!) requires half-caste children to be removed from their families (the idea being that they are to be educated and handed over to white families, so that the aborigine can be bred out of them), so the three girls –in a devastating scene – are snatched from their mothers and taken to Moore River, an institution some 1500 miles away. (For this reason, they are often referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’).

However, A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), the man behind the plan, has reckoned without the resourceful Molly, and the three girls soon escape and begin the arduous trek home on foot, following the rabbit-proof fence the whole way.

Superb Acting Debuts

The acting is superb – all three girls make their acting debuts and give impressive, naturalistic performances. Sampi is the standout, however, as the determined ringleader. Branagh is excellent, too, managing to convey the humanity of Neville and showing that he genuinely believed he was doing the right thing.

The only problem is that the presence of Branagh, while no doubt necessary for funding purposes, over-shadows the rest of the cast somewhat, because everyone else is unknown.

There’s also good support from David Gulpilil as the native tracker sent after the girls, which was a shrewd casting decision, because Rabbit-Proof Fence is, in many ways, Philip Noyce’s Walkabout (of which Gulpilil was the star).

Refreshingly Un-Hollywood

Similarly, the film looks fantastic, thanks to stunning location work and effective washed-out photography by Christopher Doyle. There’s also a great score by Peter Gabriel.

The refreshing thing about the film is that it remains markedly un-Hollywood. Noyce clearly trusts both his excellent cast and the strength of the story itself and the film is pleasingly free of the sort of sickly sentimentality you might expect with a tale like this.

In short, this is an excellent film that will educate you, shock you and, more than likely, move you to tears. One of those films that will stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 19/10/2017 10:04

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