Empty Cab (Last Cab to Darwin Review)

After learning that he has terminal stomach cancer, a 70 year old Australian taxi driver named Rex (Michael Caton) embarks on a journey to the city of Darwin to see a doctor (Jacki Weaver) who is willing to perform voluntary euthanasia. Along the way, he is forced to examine his life for the first time.

When you’re trying to see as many films as possible as I’ve been doing this year, you often get to run into certain films that you probably would not have seen otherwise. You can chalk this one up to that. One of the best things about doing this is that over time, you get to see films from different countries. The last of those was Hunt for the Wilderpeople from New Zealand. The country in question this time around is Australia with the last Australian film I’ve reviewed was The Babadook which you can read here.

The film is about a taxi driver named Rex (Caton) who lives a pretty simple life with his dog who is named “Dog” because Rex was already taken. He is also close to his neighbor Polly (Ningali Lawford). They appear to be more than just friends which complicates things for them as he and Polly, who happens to be black, live in an area where interracial relationships are frowned upon. The film subtly hints at this issue but does not go much further with it. All these things occurred rather quickly and in addition to that, we learn that Rex has cancer and only has a few months to live. Deciding that he does not want to live with his illness, he seeks out the help of a doctor named Dr. Farmer (Weaver).

The problem for Rex was that Dr. Farmer was thousands of kilometers away in Darwin so he had to take his cab and drive there, hence the title. This trek was a journey of self-discovery for Rex as he had to take a deep look at himself and ask himself whether his life is still worth living despite his current predicament. He wasn’t alone on this journey as he met a few characters along the way in a lost, young mechanic and aspiring Australian football player named Tilly (Mark Coles Smith) and a backpacker and nurse from London named Julie (Emma Hamilton). Their only purpose here seemed to be advancing the plot. They technically had subplots of their own but they weren’t inspiring.

Tilly coincidentally needed to get to Darwin for a tryout and since Rex felt bad for him because his personal situation, he let him tag along. He was meant to bring some levity in contrast of the dark subject matter but he came off as mostly cliched while also being unlikable and a little annoying. Rex and Tilly met Julie later on who then joined them on their journey. Julie had even less of a story and was mostly there to support Rex with her nursing background. All 3 characters had good chemistry which made their scenes watchable but it felt like they took away from Rex and his story. While Rex had to come to terms with his life or death decision, the film lacked depth in dealing with this issue, barely touching the emotional aspects. The most recent example of this was (spoiler alert) Me Before You which offered a similar plot point that it barely addressed (end of spoiler alert).

The journey may have lacked substance but was still fun because of the chemistry between the three main actors and was also nice to look at. The film prominently featuring the Australian outback. It may not have shown the “best” parts of Australia but was still very beautiful to look at. This is an Australian film after all so expect accents, sayings, and/or other things that may not be easy to understand at first.

Caton was great here as Rex so it was a shame that the film didn’t give him much of a chance to show it. He was great at showing Rex’s inner conflict. He definitely carried the film despite what he had to deal with. Smith’s performance was over the top which could also be because the character was underwritten. Hamilton was okay with what little she had to do. Weaver was also okay as Dr. Farmer but she did not look comfortable here in a role which would have probably worked better with someone else.

Overall, this was a decent road trip film, featuring the great Australian outback and a great performance by Caton but just lacked enough substance.

Score: 7.5/10

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