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Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
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Review Date: August 26, 2002
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writer: Christine Olsen
Producers: Phillip Noyce, Christine Olsen
Actors:
Kenneth Branagh as A.O. Neville
Everlyn Sampi as Molly Craig
Tianna Sansbury as Daisy Craig
Plot:
The year is 1931, the place is Australia and the people are the Aboriginal who are being treated deplorably by the government. All children whose parents are half-white (called half-castes) are being taken from their families and put into "rehabilitation" camps to "be made white". Three particular little girls don't appreciate their newfound home, miss their mom and decide to make a run for it (actually, a long "walk" for it). Walking ensues.
Critique:
It isn't every day that you actually get the director of a film speaking to an audience before the lights go down, but in our case, at the 2002 edition of the Montreal Film Festival, we were lucky enough to have Australian director Phillip Noyce say a few words about this movie before it began. "The rabbit-proof fence really exists in Australia and is the longest fence in the world", said Mr. Noyce, making sure that we all understood that this film was based on historical fact. Now I'll be the first to admit that the subject matter of this movie didn't exactly have me salivating at the chops, but I'm always open to new topics, so I sat, waited and expected something engaging to ultimately...well, engage me! Unfortunately, this film is little more than historical fact, told via a very long "chase" of three little girls, across 1500 miles of desert land in Australia. Sound interesting to you? Well, it's almost as exciting as it sounds, only the three girl characters are never really drawn out into three dimensions, so you don't really have much invested in them either, and the "chase" itself, well...it's basically a "walk" with zero tense moments, lots of nice scenery shots, but very little else. I found myself wondering why this film hadn't just been made as a documentary instead of an actual 90 minute drawn out picture, since all it did was bore me with its redundancy. The film's main problem is its screenplay, which covers a little bit of the political aspect of the reprehensible Aboriginal Australian policy, but doesn't really go much further. How did the regular folk feel about all this? How were others reacting across Australia to the girls' plight? Was there much resistance from the aborigines themselves, or did they just "go along" with it (without much choice)? Were there demonstrations, who helped, who didn't, etc...?

For a film starved for content to fill its languid runtime, this movie managed to leave much of the more interesting facts about this historical horror in the background, and concentrate more on the plight of these three little girls instead...three girls who as actors, incidentally, didn't do much for me either. I'm not usually one to complain about kids' acting skills in movies, seeing as they are just kids and manage as best they could most of the time, but in this case, it felt like these children really didn't know what they were doing most of the time. One specific scene of one of the girls breaking down was supposed to be an emotional moment in the story, but all I saw was the camera panning away and some 'phony' sobbing sounds inserted over the score. Why not show more of the mom and how she missed her kids? Why not show more moments of the kids crying or running out of food, etc...? The moment-to-moment rough nature of their trek was not established in the picture, and one month's time would pass in the bat of an eye. There were also very few "obstacles" for the girls along the way, as most people seemed to want to help them, creating even less drama (I know that this may sound like I'm bashing a real-life event, but the truth is that this is a movie...not a documentary and it really needs to connect in certain ways). And when that whole "spirit eagle" thing kicked in, I thought I was in movie cliché heaven. Overall, I think this topic might've been interesting as a documentary (an important cause does not a great movie make), but other than the basic idea behind the story, the film failed to engage me on any level, and other than its scenic photography, Kenneth Branagh's competent showing as the man leading the misguided hunt, the creepy "tracker" dude who should be hired to play a "heavy" in a Hollywood blockbuster...I can't say that there was much about this film that I could recommend to anyone. Read any book based on the subject instead.
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian
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