Based on a true story, Rabbit-Proof Fence takes place in 1930s Australia at a time in which the Chief Protector of the Aborigines (Kenneth Branagh) was the legal guardian of all of Australia's natives. To keep the rabbit population away from farmland 1500 miles of fence was put up. White laborers occasionally impregnated local aborigine women and mulatto or "half-caste" children were the result. To make sure the population didn't become racially integrated like Brazil, the government authorized the forced removal of these children from their homes and the forced "re-education" into hypocritical white Christian schools (that beat people). The theory was apparently that if these children grew up and married white, all traces of their undesirable blackness would be genetically removed. But when young Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi) escapes with her sister (Tianna Sansbury) and cousin (Laura Monaghan), they are able to elude government trackers and walk the 1500 mile journey back home.
Director Phillip Noyce has always made acceptable yet forgettable action thrillers such as Patriot Games and Dead Calm. But with this and the excellent The Quiet American, Noyce is sure to become one of the most sought after directors in town. How he made a movie with no sex, no explosions and three children walking 1500 miles into an entertaining and intensely emotional ride is somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps the disgusting subject matter, a policy that lasted until the 1970s, is riveting enough to carry the film. After all, not much really happens. The girls are kidnapped, they escape, people help and hinder them along the way, etc., etc. The cast, with the exception of Kenneth Branagh's supporting role, is made up of unknowns and the characters we see the most of are children. But Molly's refusal to accept defeat is intensely energizing against the depressing backdrop of Australia's racist and inexcusable policies.
The film is beautifully shot, having miles of wasteland at its disposal. For child actors, our three heroines do a decent job, particularly Everlyn Sampi as Molly. Some of their behavior and that of Molly's mother (excellently played by Ningali Lawford) and grandmother (Myarn Lawford) may not seem realistic from a white perspective, but acceptable from an aborigine one, like the way they cry - long sustained moaning in groups, or the grandmother beating her head with a rock to fight the pain of seeing the children kidnapped. But it does become frustrating at times when it seems to take the children a really long time to respond, verbally or otherwise, to demands. Branagh delivers an acceptable job, but is outshined by the supporting cast like David Gulpilil as an aborigine tracker and Deborah Mailman's powerful performance as a half-caste that helps them along the way.
Although far from boring, the film seems a little starved for content and sometimes it feels that our characters are simply going from one person who feeds them to another. But the truthfulness of the story and Noyce's expert direction make this a film worth checking out.
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