8 November 2002 | bob the moo
Powerful story, beautifully shot and pretty well acted more than deserves 90 minutes of your time
1931 Australia. The state has passed a law that facilitates the collection of mixed race children to boarding camps where they are trained in their white side of their blood and to be home help as adults. The eventual aim is to prevent the growth of the aborigines as a race by watering down any mixed blood. A small group of children, Molly, Gracie and Daisy are taken from their mother and transferred across the country to one such camp. However Molly leads the trio in an escape from the camp and follow the rabbit proof fence that divides the country to return to her home.
I managed to fluke free preview tickets for this because the tickets I had come to collect were all gone! I must admit this film hadn't really appealed to me when I saw summaries and the poster, but I'm very glad that I did. The plot is based on fact and is a period of history that I admit I knew nothing about. I was surprised that this cruel and immoral practice carried on till as late as the seventies. The fact that the current Prime Minister of Australia refuses to apologise for it to this day shows that it is important that this story be told.
The film is told in a steady, unsentimental tone that allows the film to be powerful without the typically Hollywood use of sweeping music or other such lazy tools. Instead the circumstances of the story create the emotion. The story is a little weak at some points once the children escape the film has a touch too many scenes of near-capture and escape to sustain the drama. Also the film (understandably) lends a lot of respect to the Aborigines giving them a sense of mysticism that they maybe don't deserve. This is a slight problem when a key action involves a hawk that is supposedly summoned by their mothers (or something!). However these are minor complaints given the sweeping emotion of the film and the sheer power of the story.
The production and direction are excellent. Noyce has created a beautiful vision of the Australian Outback that really feeds the film. However the sound is also superb. Rhythmic footsteps ring out, crunching and banging of the landscape it works best in a cinema I guess but it adds to the dramatic feel of the film, even if some sudden noises caused me to jump without any reason in the scene to do so.
The cast are mixed but are important where it matters. Sampi is amazing as Molly. She carries the film with her strength but also little facial expressions that reveal that she is a child, reveal her strength and tell so very much. Both Sansbury and Monaghan also do well but not as well as the lead. Branagh is also perfectly pitched. Neville could easily have been overplayed as a hammy villain of the piece but here he is played just right he is a real man and we are left to decide for ourselves what to make of him. Some of the cast are average some of the children in the camp can't act and the majority of the white police officers are maybe a shade too much caricatured as evil men who dislike the blacks.
Overall this film may struggle to draw the Friday night crowd just looking for a bit of escapism of a weekend, but it is still well worth a look. It is beautifully shot and uses the Australian landscape to great effect complimenting the enormity and emotion of the terrible, terrible true story. Not exactly cheerful or uplifting but a powerful story that deserves 90 minutes of your time.