Fence," Australia's Phillip Noyce creates a film of near-hypnotic physical beauty even as he tells a story as horrifying as any in the heart-breakingly extensive annals of white-on-black racism.
A light of his own country's emerging cinema in the '70s, Noyce moved on in later years to major Hollywood projects -- "Clear and Present Danger,&
quot; "Patriot Games," and "The Bone Collector" among them.
Here, Noyce turns homeward with a spare, physically gorgeous, emotionally b
rutal drama that marks an abysmally dark passage in Australian history. Betw
een 1905 and 1971, as a matter of official policy, the Australian government
aggressively kidnapped "half-castes" -- children of Caucasian and
Aborigine parentage -- and trained them to serve as domestics to middle-cla
The thought, as laid out in the myopic bureaucrat's mind: To "breed&qu
ot; the Aborigine out of "those people." By his chilling calculati
on (with archival slide show to prove the point), he estimates that could be
accomplished in the short space of two or three generations.
England's gifted, energetic Kenneth Branagh plays that bureaucrat to smirki
ng, pasty-faced perfection. Apart from being blindingly white (thanks to cre
ative lighting), the Branagh character is morally and intellectually blind.
He just does his job.
The job: To "protect" so-called "half-caste" progeny of
mixed-race sexual encounters -- blessed by marriage or not. The protection:
Train them to the service of whites and, down the line, breed the Aborigine
blood so thin that it becomes invisible.
The film homes in on the story of two sisters, ages 14 and 10, and their cousin, age 8, who in 1931
are kidnapped by Branagh's goons and shipped to a grim "retraining" center nearly 1,500 miles from home and mother. <
Despite the presence of a talented Aborigine "tracker" and certai
n knowledge of the beating that awaits those who attempt escape, the three g
irls determine to go home. They use their intimate understanding of the natu
ral world to immense advantage.
A simple fence built north-to-south for thousands of miles to keep rabbits
out of farmland becomes, ironically, a kind of guide in their grueling odyss
ey. Much to Branagh's chagrin, their case becomes a media cause-celebre.
"Rabbit-Proof Fence" dramatizes the girls' experience in riveting
terms. Noyce stays close enough to them to allow you to see every scintilla
of fear in their eyes, every breathtaking encounter with the cops and the t
racker on their tail. He gets miraculously guile-free performances from all
Each makes her acting bow in this film: Everlyn Sampi as Molly, the oldest
of the trio and the one who calls the shots during their dangerous, but magn
ificent, journey; Tianna Sansbury as Daisy, Molly's younger sister, and Laur
a Monaghan as Gracie, the baby in the group and about as appealing a little
girl as you have ever seen at the movies.
Noyce elicits performances of sterling emotional integrity from all three l
ittle girls. He also seizes the chance to offer a painterly portrait of the
parched Australian Outback.
Yet, the real pull of the film comes with the integrity of the key performa
nces and with the judicious choices of plain and simple Noyce makes every ti
me a lesser movie would go for wordy or baroque. When, near journey's end, S
ampi turns to Monaghan and says, "Home," it's enough to inspire te
A Miramax release. Opens today at the Maple Art Theatre.