Urban Cinefile
"The only 'ism' in Hollywood is plagiarism."  -Dorothy Parker
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Based on the true story of three young Aboriginal girls Molly, Gracie, Daisy (Evelyn Sampi, Laura Monaghan, Tianna Sansbury): in 1931 they were forcibly removed from their families at Jigalong WA and taken to a camp 1500 miles away at Moore River to be trained as domestic servants, all part of official Government policy. Molly leads her younger sister and cousin on a daring escape and in a bid to find her way home, following –on foot - the rabbit proof fence that cuts across the Gibson Desert and towards Jigalong. But WA’s Chief protector of Aborigines, A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) does his [misguided] best to recapture them, with help from black tracker David Moodoo (David Gulpilil).

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Without hysterics and without cheap sentimentality, Rabbit Proof Fence tells an extraordinary story about three little girls. The hysterics began after the film was released, when controversy erupted: did the film portray history or just one take on it? Nothing unexpected, perhaps, with a topic as culturally hot and divisive as the stolen generations.

The three young girls who play the three young girls carry much of the film – and do so very well. We are perhaps used to seeing child actors deliver credible characters, but rarely from child actors who’d never seen a movie before, let alone act in one. Rest assured, you do not have to make any allowances for them: all three are wonderful, natural, credible and moving. Sweet, too. The oldies also do well: Branagh masters the complexity of a well meaning but misguided A. O. Neville, for whom we feel a pang of pity as well as a touch of resentment. Gulpilil is exceptional as Moodoo, working his minimalist magic; Deborah Mailman is at her usual brilliant best; and Ningali Lawford is heart-wrenching as Molly’s mother. Chris Doyle’s cinematography and Peter Gabriel’s music bring out all the emotional colours of the film, which leaves us satisfied that what we have seen is important, true and of lasting value. 

Transferred to DVD with Phil Noyce’s trademark thoroughness, there is a full disc of extras, ranging from a doco to a study guide. And also as you would expect, Noyce delivers a commentary that is as much a production as the film, in that it’s not just casually thrown together – but designed and shaped. Throughout the early stages, Noyce includes details of the last stage of development on The Sum of All Fears – until he pulled out, after differences with Harrison Ford over the script. But his commentary begins with the great story of how he was woken one night in the Hollywood Hills by a scriptwriter wanting him to make this movie. That story gives way to other stories by his collaborators, starting with that very woman, scriptwriter Christine Olsen.

Disc 1 is devoted to the two formats of the movie: you can watch it in tv style 4:3, or in the original widescreen aspect ratio, 16:9 enhanced. And why can’t other distributors do this? (Not that I support the corruption of films by changing the aspect ratio, but some distributors fear commercial losses without a 4:3 format. Long argument – belongs elsewhere.) The transfer is beautiful in vision and sound, with Peter Gabriel’s score superbly captured – as is the actual soundtrack itself.

Doris Pilkington tells yet another story – hers. This commentary is therefore a source of great social interest – more so than most DVD commentaries. Noyce uses this platform to expand on the film’s socio political context. But Noyce doesn’t ignore the filmmaking issues, such as the detail of how Chris Doyle used different film stock for different effects. Or the details about how he worked with the three girls. 

In a clever use of resources, Kenneth Branagh’s on-set interview is used in context in the commentary, as well. (Which explains the difference in the sound-scape of his presence here.)

This commentary is a full and complex addition to the film. Especially when Noyce confesses how he felt an outsider in Hollywood, giving us an intimate insight into his motivations for making a small budget film away from Hollywood. But close to home.

On Disc 2, a reasonable documentary and eight cast and crew interviews (where Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle explains how it came about that this is his first Australian film) from the electronic press kit help beef up the package, along with a study guide and some press materials available via the DVD Rom. 

Published August 29, 2002

Email this article





CAST: Evelyn Sampi, Laura Monaghan, Tianna Sansbury, Kenneth Branagh, David Gulpilil, Garry McDonald, Jason Clarke, Ningali Lawford, Deborah Mailman

DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes (feature only)


DVD RELEASE: August 28, 2002

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020