Harnessing both the intimate scale of a personal journey and the root cultural vibe of a road movie, co-writer and director Jeremy Sims’s Last Cab To Darwin tells the moving tale of a dying taxi driver and his cross-country quest to receive the voluntary euthanasia process allowed for a brief period of time in a single Australian state in the mid-1990s (it is now illegal across the land).
An aging hometown loner who has driven a taxi for most of his adult life, Rex Macrae (Michael Caton) lives alone with his vinyl records in the shadow of the mines that are the lifeblood of Broken Hill. Rex’s circle of mates is miniscule, composed primarily of three “tradies,” or tradesmen, with whom he gets routinely but somehow unenthusiastically pissed at the local pub. And then there is Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf), Rex’s aboriginal neighbour. Though the two are initially abrasive with one another, it is quickly revealed that they are longtime occasional lovers who surreptitiously hold hands on the front veranda.
At about the same time as he learns that stomach cancer leaves him a limited time to live, he hears a Dr. Farmer (Jacki Weaver, Magic in the Moonlight, Silver Linings Playbook) on the radio talking about a voluntary euthanasia program she is attempting to have legalized for trials. Thinking he will end his days on his own terms, Rex decides to find this doctor without telling anyone. But Dr. Farmer lives in the Northern Territory capital of Darwin, some 3,000 kilometers due north—and Rex has never been out of Broken Hill.
Nevertheless, off he goes, leaving his house to an upset but resolute Polly, who promptly fills it with her own extended family. Along the way, he picks up the smart but rudderless young indigenous drifter Tilly (Mark Coles Smith) and English nurse-turned-backpacker Julie (Emma Hamilton). Their adventures together, as well as what Rex learns from Dr. Farmer, the legal system and his own heart, lead him to a decision that surprises even himself.
As much about an expiring way of life as the controversial decision of a terminally ill man, the film also raises contemporary—and in Australia, particularly provocative—and questions about the nature of mateship, community and friendship. It is based on a true-life tale and a successful stage play by Reg Cribb, and was filmed at authentic locations, showing the natural beauty, extraordinary isolation and rural lifestyles of the Australian outback.
“It’s not so much the destination but the physical and emotional journey embarked on in this thoughtful, culturally authentic road trip.” (Eddie Cockrell, Variety)
“The film’s destination might be apparent, but the trek through past regrets, race relations and the central subject itself never feels drawn out.” (Sarah Ward, Screen International)
“Great performances … elevate the film from merely likable to poignantly satisfying.” (Bruce Demara, Toronto Star)