Movie Review: Rabbit-Proof Fence

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After being taken from their mothers, three young girls take the long journey back home through the outback, following the rabbit-proof fence.

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Philip Noyce, 2002

Based on a true story, this film follows Molly (Everlyn Sampi), her sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), and their cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan), who are taken from their mothers and their home in Jigalong as part of the Stolen Generation. The appointed “protector” of Aboriginal people, A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), has them kidnapped from their mothers to be raised in a group home, taught white ways and married off so they can “breed out” their blackness, as they all have white fathers. However, when they arrive at Moore River, the smart and resilient Molly refuses to be caged. She takes Daisy and Gracie and embarks on a nine-week walk back to their home, following the guiding path of the country-wide rabbit-proof fence. They are pursued by a talented tracker (David Gulpilil), whose skills Molly has to constantly outwit in order to reunite her family.

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Given the calibre of director Philip Noyce, I really expected this movie to be more polished than it was. There’s a scene early in the film where what’s clearly old, colour-faded stock footage has a technicolor woman passing in front of it; it’s weird and pulled me right out of the movie. It’s grainy and looks low-budget, too, which is a shame, because some of it is really beautifully shot and could look amazing given the opportunity. There’s something slightly hokey about the city stuff that doesn’t sit right, but that’s the only major complaint about a powerful movie. The connection between mother and daughters is palpable, and it showcases Aboriginal stories and lives. It covers a horrifying time in Australian history with heart and a lightness of touch, and manages to avoid the episodic nature that many “long journey” style films can fall into. The film and its characters are compelling, creating a real sense of pride and worry for the girls.

The kids are incredibly on point in their performances, especially Everlyn Sampi, who plays the resourceful Molly. She gives a powerful, naturalistic performance that works despite not having many lines. Little Tianna Sansbury is all eyes, and tugs at the heartstrings with ease. As the most famous actor of the bunch, Branagh provides us with a complex villain, a man whose evil is borne out of a genuine interest in doing what he considers to be the right thing. Still, aside from one scene he’s distanced from the action, with the more immediate threat being Moodoo the tracker; even an actor of Branagh’s quality would be hard-pressed to provide a real sense of tension being so far removed. The one scene where he and Molly cross paths is an intense one, so it’s a shame that intensity is lacking in much of the rest of the film. Small roles for Deborah Mailman (probably Australia’s best-known Aboriginal actress) and Jason Clarke (better with his native Australian accent) work well to support the story.

Rabbit-Proof Fence on IMDb

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