There’s no greater contrast in our land than between sun-bedazzled Sydney, on its harbour, to sun-blistered Broken Hill, on its slag-heaps where the bush gives way to the desert. As well, there’s also no greater contrast in our land as between the denizens who populate those two burbs. Our premier city has its fair share of suited and befrocked sophisticates as befits the cosmopolitan metropolis it has become. Contrast that to the knock-about, laconic blokes and sheilas of Silver City. And there’s no greater contrast between the pair of movies we have under the microscope here – Brendan Cowell’s ‘Ruben Guthrie’ and Jeremy Sims’ Outback road trip, ‘Last Cab to Darwin’.
Both, in this scribe’s view, have their faults But, overwhelmingly, both were highly respectable offerings in terms of quality. The cinema going punters thought otherwise, though. For an Oz effort the former wasn’t a complete disaster earning good dollars during its run – in the hundreds of thousands. But LCTD creamed it at the box-office with earnings now up above the three million mark and climbing. Although most of us reside in a coastal necklace of large cities, from ‘Dad and Dave’ to ‘Crocodile Dundee’ to ‘Last Cab’, give us a good yarn about bush yokels and we’re suckers for the taking. The Outback, don’t you know – that’s where the true-blue Australia is.
Ruben Guthrie is an ugly man, not a likeable fellow at all – and that’s perhaps the problem. Australians have adored Michael Caton ever since he added new phrases to our lingo in the magnificent Aussie battler tale of ‘The Castle’. The promise of another fine turn from him bought us to the multiplexes in our droves. We weren’t disappointed. He is superb as a guy at death’s door. He doesn’t want to do the hard yards to an unseemly, painful demise and who can blame him? In the period the movie is set the Northern Territory legislature had just introduced a law permitting us to put ourselves, legally, out of our misery – to have the same option as we would bestow on a well loved pet. For a nano-second, before Howard and his cronies decided it was their right to play god as pollies are wont, a government finally had the courage to stick its nose up at the far right and do the humane thing. It didn’t last long, did it? But it will happen, eventually.
As Rex couldn’t face a cruel death he, being a taxi driver in the Outback NSW town, took one last fare – himself. He’s off to Darwin in the hope of a gentler exit. What eventually transpires; the characters he meets en route and a stellar performance from the lead makes this such a rewarding experience – a beaut effort at the genre our local industry does best. No need to be all arty-farty. Leave that to the countries that excel in that. It won’t bring the average joe in. Stick to what we know and our film-making can be viable. This is one that’s all heart, with an ending that will make one leave with a smile – despite its subject matter. We can only hope that a few of our leaders view it and at least contemplate allowing us a choice in the way we would like out time to be bought to an end. Once upon a time we were the land of the fair go.
There is a grim outcome for Rex, the cab driver, but there’s much joy to be had with Sim’s product here. The supporting cast are particularly fine, especially Nigali Lawford-Wolf and Mark Coles Smith. Jackie Weaver’s role, despite some critical displeasure, is okay as the euthanasia-ing, proselytising doctor. The aforementioned jack-of-all trades, Cowell, has a brief cameo and the other John Howard features. Even Bristle (Brian Taylor) gets a guernsey.
And the ‘…thirsty comedy about a man on the rocks’? It is also worth a bo-peep when it comes along on some small screen platform or other. Ruben is an A1 party animal, with Sydney’s hedonistic lifestyle giving him an immense playground in which to indulge himself in a sea of grog and other ingestibles. He possesses a palatial home, a European model as prime squeeze and he’s killing it in his advertising job. Trouble is – his life choices are also killing him. Eventually he wises up and sees the need to go on the wagon – but can he prevent himself from slipping off at the first whiff of a martini olive? It’s a journey he has to take – one that is never short of interesting as he battles his demons and as with Rex’s bull-dust adventures, there are interesting companions to meet en route. With competent performances from Robyn Nevin and Alex Dimitriades, as well as from the doyen, Jack T, who also puts in an appearance – plenty of life left in that old dog – the film is well served by its supporting cast. As is well documented about Brendan C’s own life, the film, as well as the play from which it derives it roots, is pretty much autobiographical. The question then is why didn’t he just play himself? Perhaps it was too close to home, but nonetheless Patrick Brammall is a perfectly adequate substitute – an actor starting to make a mark after his performance in ABC’s ‘Glitch’. He is initially convincing as a drunk out of control, before events conspire forcing his character to reassess himself as a person.
Worthy also of mention is the lovely work Sarah Blasko has done with the soundtrack (she must be just about due for another album). I liked ‘Ruben Guthrie’ As it was chosen to open this year’s Sydney Film Festival, I am patently not alone. But the people who really count – those lining up for tickets at the box office – well, they largely bypassed it.
As LCTD did for euthanasia, so RG does for binge drinking. At the conclusion of the latter offering Ruben has to make a snap decision that so many in similar situation also have also had to face. Unfortunately, in the instance that Rex so poignantly highlights in his trip to the Top End, for those in similar circumstances today there is no choice now on offer. We have a bit of maturing to do as a nation.
‘Last Cab to Darwin’ website = http://www.lastcab.com.au/lastcab.com.au/Home.html
‘Last Cab to Darwin’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdzkJL37db8
‘Ruben Guthrie’ website = http://rubenguthrie.com.au/
‘Ruben Guthrie’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyaE_L3TghI