Dark Horizons, February 2002,
By Garth Franklin
*Thanks to Catherine Wong
Cast: Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, Kenneth Branagh, David Gulpilil
Synopsis: Based on the biographical book by Doris Pilkington, and Directed by Phillip Noyce. Three little girls. Snatched from their mothers' arms. Spirited 1,500 miles away. Denied their very identity. Forced to adapt to a strange new world. They will attempt the impossible. A daring escape. A run from the authorities. An epic journey across an unforgiving landscape that will test their very will to survive. Their only resources, tenacity, determination, ingenuity and each other. Their one hope, find the rabbit-proof fence that might just guide them home. A true story.
Director Phil Noyce has done the incredible job of dealing with the 'stolen generation' issue head on in a way that never holds back on showing the overall cruelty of what happened, but also combines it with a powerful drama featuring some wonderful performances and emotional power. After several years of very mainstream pap comedies and/or dark dramas, "Rabbit Proof Fence" is a true milestone in the Aussie film industry as it gives us a very mature and slickly produced production is both a very good movie and a serious work of art that will get people thinking and analysing the subject for years to come - its not afraid to make a powerful statement which needed to be said, now if only the Government would listen.
The performances are remarkable, especially from the three young girls (Evelyn Sampi, Laura Monaghan and Tianna Sansbury) who are totally credible, very natural and have you emotionally enraptured right from the start. Branagh is frighteningly convincing as A.O. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines whose separation of families and control over the way Aboriginals live are done not with malice but with a sincere belief that he's 'saving these people' which makes it all the more frightening (after all, don't they say the road to hell is paved in good intentions). One scene towards the start of the film displays this best - it reveals Aboriginals have to get his personal approval to do pretty much anything whether it be marry or buy a new pair of shoes. The film displays the power this one man had over many thousands of people, plus a 'breeding out' of the Aboriginal gene program which would make Hitler proud, and which disgustingly enough was given widespread public support at the time.
Also superb in this is David Gulpilil as the tracker Moodoo, Gulpilil has one of those amazing faces which tells many tales and shows a huge range of emotions without saying a word. Noyce realises this and so he has very little dialogue yet delivers one of the best understated performances I've seen in years. The script is solid, very straight forward, respectful of the subject matter and yet never bogs itself down in sentimentality. There's also some surprising twists made all the more convincing by the fact these really happened, though one or two sequences which attempt to build tension don't execute it as well as the filmmakers were hoping. Others will have the LOTR complaint that there's a lot of one tense sequence, followed by another, and by another, etc. and indeed one or two are a little repetitive which makes it slow at times even for a 90 minute movie. Nevertheless the few weak spots are more than covered by some truly powerful scenes such as the sequence where the kids are removed from their parents - this is a truly harrowing bit of footage pulled off so realistically you'll be reaching for the Kleenex long before it ends. Peter Gabriel's score is a little over done at times but makes superb use of Aboriginal instruments and sound effects, whilst Chris Doyle's cinematography is consistently eye catching but true to the flow of the film with each shot having a purpose. An excellent Aussie film with a real core of emotion, bravery and intelligence.