Rabbit-Proof Fence

Starring:
  • Sir Kent
  • Clear and Present Danger
  • An Outback the Crocodile Hunter Will Not Venture Forth

 

Directed by Phillip Noyce (?) "It's okay, child. Wild Wild West Won't be that bad. I promise."
It's A Long Way from Hollywood

Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence is exhausting- both in the best and worse sense of the word. Exhausting in how the story of three aboriginal girls escaping the Australian government camp they were relocated to in 1931 is so unbelievable. To see young Molly (Everlyn Sampi), her sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), and cousin Gracie (Laura Monagham) follow the 1,500 mile chain-linked fence across the sweltering Australian Outback is heartbreaking and amazing just to consider, let alone watch. It's also exhausting to witness Noyce attempt to infuse his Hollywood experience (He did give us two Jack Ryan films, Sliver, and The Bone Collector) into a story that really requires no razzle dazzle to razzle and dazzle the audience. In reality, the film needed a Nicolas Roeg to simply film the harsh and beautiful landscape as these girls make their harrowing journey. In execution, Noyce tries to give us a cribbed history lesson wrapped into a coming of age story which is really not the point. In the end, Rabbit-Proof Fence becomes somewhat critic-proof in the way it shows the perils and outcome of this journey. It speaks to emotional levels that can't be touched by us mere mortals.

While Rabbit-Proof Fence is a somewhat fictional account, the background and the story are sadly all too real. As a way of preventing half-English/half-aboriginals from perpetuating down the genetic code, the Australian government chose to relocate these children to a camp where they would be allowed to propagate and create a "purer" race for their own people. Sounds charming, no? The process is made all the more gentlemanly by the leadership of Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), who sounds like he's waiting in the que for some crumpets when he's talking about budget problems of genetic superiority. The three girls-Molly, Daisy, and Gracie- are picked up by the government from their family's farm and sent to the camp to become what is now known as "The Lost Generation". But instead of being taught to go to church and to otherwise lose all sight of identity, Molly convinces the other two to run away in search of the "rabbit proof fence." This is the fence (duh!) farmers have put up along a 1500 mile stretch through the Outback to keep rabbits from destroying crops. It also happens to run right back to the place where they were taken away from their family. The film follows them as they attempt to outwit the searchers, survive the extreme weather conditions, and to find their way back home. And we also get Peter Gabriel's soundtrack attempt to out-Graceland Paul Simon. ("I'm more diverse and ethnic. No, I'm more diverse and ethnic. Oh yeah, I've got Africans for back-up singers. Well, I've got Australians!")

It's really hard to NOT be moved by this story. Especially when Noyce brings out the real-life two sisters at the end and shows them walking into the sunset. I know Ebert has already said this, but it is the most effective conclusion to a biography since Schindler's List. Noyce lets his camera linger over the old women's faces to the point where their wrinkles and their sad eyes tell the story of a life that has seen too much suffering. The movie also, at the end, tells us that this program was continued by the Australian government until 1970. Doesn't seem that long ago, does it? These are the little, personal moments of the film that give Rabbit-Proof Fence most of it's impact. These were quiet, sweeping scenes that needed no elaboration from the filmmaker. Too bad Noyce didn't use this style all the way through. It may depend on one's thinking, but I think some stories are good enough to leave alone. No symbolic sledgehammering, no fancy camera moves, no Hollywood formula. But it is this formula that Noyce cannot shake. Noyce made his mark with the likes of Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, and Denzel. This year, he shifts gears into full-miramax force with Fence and The Quiet American. I haven't seen the latter but I can sense that Noyce wanted to add a little of that old fashioned movie-making into these somewhat smaller films. It may have sounded like a good idea on paper, but a story like this of the three girl's does not need to be painted as a coming-of-age story. And that's what he clearly does with the framing of the journey and with bits of dialogue. We also don't need to Uncle Tom-like Aboriginie Moodoo (David Gulpili) who must search for the three girls on behalf of Mr. Neville. Wanna guess that he doesn't end up looking that hard? These are clichés that are put in this movie because it is assumed that no one would watch without interference. Well, we would! I would, anyway. Sometimes, I just want to get a good history lesson with some deep emotional impact. But the story of the conflict between the English and the aborigines is so glazed over that it feels like an insignificant footnote. This film may be intended for an Australian audience, but I think that the past prior to this moment should be explored if nothing more than just foundation. As far as being a history lesson, it is slapdashed from an outsider's position. I don't even want to mention poor Branagh who gets stuck with the Ashcroft role. It would have been a good villain for him if he hadn't been reduced to reading lines off a telegraph and saying this like, "Oh, dear. The budget won't allow it!". I would like to say he was wasted, but I can't think of anything that hasn't wasted his talents in the past five years. These are the flaws that rob Rabbit-Proof Fence away from greatness. As it stand even with its flaws, it still remains to be a sad and terribly touching story.

The Pitch:
2 Walkabout
Plus
 
1 John Ashcroft
Equals
 
3 Rabbit Proof Fence
See It For:
Phillip Pondering About Including Kangaroo Jack in Rabbit Proof Fences.