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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 23.3%
Average: 13.59%
Pretty Bad: 10.68%
Total Crap: 5.83%

6 reviews, 67 user ratings

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Rabbit-Proof Fence
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by John Smith

"SUBJECT: 10, FILM: 3"
2 stars

Here, film meets talk show in a soppy syrup of reactionary emotionalism, and Kenneth Branagh plays Darth Vader!

The facts of the "Stolen Generations", the countless thousands of Australian Aboriginal children taken permanently from their mothers and placed in remote, state controlled "re-education" camps, have been suppressed by successive Australian governments, absent from school curriculums, and glaringly glossed over in Australian state celebrations, such as the celebrated Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

So in one way, it's great that this under reported chapter of history has been made into a film, and won a wide commercial release. As a film, the story has the potential to find a huge international audience, millions of people who may see the film, hear about it in entertainment columns or television shows, and discover its subject matter for the first time.

Problem: The film sucks. It uses a hackneyed, conventional narrative, a contrived approach to character, some very bad dialogue, and some acting that is worse.

So why has it been acclaimed as a popular masterpiece in Australia, with almost every major critic giving it their top rating, and audiences attending in droves?

Partly, I suspect because it's too easy for white Australians like myself to make this film into a sacrificial altar for their colonial guilt. "Oh yes," we can say after seeing it, "I can't believe it really happened, how heartbreaking, and to think we were never even taught about it." This allows me to show my empathy for the unimaginable suffering of the "Stolen Generations", while simultaneously filing it away under a time long gone by. Attending the film is a socio-political statement - I'm sure John Howard wasn't present at the premiere.

With a film like this, the lines between importance of subject and quality of film become blurred, combined. As Martin Scorsese discovered with The Last Temptation of Christ, filming a controversial, touchy subject can blank out whatever you end up doing with the film itself. Director Phillip Noyce has experienced the same, in reverse - critical praise and high box office, proclaiming this very average film as a great piece of cinema that the public love. Really, what people are saying is "we want to see more about this subject", and are offering their unbridled encouragement.

And this is great, and I agree that there should be far more films, novels, theatre pieces, that expand Indigenous participation in Caucasian cultures, but the problem is, that a little bit of fascism creeps in.

Criticising the film opens one up to accusations of racism, anti-patriotism and redneck ignorance. When I told a friend that I didn't really like this film, she gruffly replied "Well, yes, some people find it hard to watch.' She meant, too confronting, I had meant, I found it boring. Like Schindler's List and Dances With Wolves before it, the flaws of this plain, melodramatic film are hidden under it's cloak of self-importance. It sneaks all the way up to awards night podiums using its subject matter like a mirror, deflecting any critical view of it's blatant shortcomings.

The director, Phillip Noyce, editorialises too much. Maybe he's overcompensating for what he was never taught at school (he was raised in Australia), but he treats the audience like kindergarten pupils. I remember seeing the trailer for the film and hearing Kenneth Branagh mutter dialogue to the effect of "if only these people (the Aboriginals) would understand what we were trying to do for them." I was waiting to hear him say it, expecting it to come somewhere near the end. But no, it came very early, in one of his first scenes. Then, in the film's second act, he paraphrased it, seeming to become frustrated at the Aboriginal "resistance". He said it one more time before the film was finished. Each time he says it, Noyce holds the shot for a few extra seconds, focussed on Branagh's cold and emotionless face. Maybe it was the period setting, but during these pauses I kept waiting for a sign saying "BOO!!" to pop up, and as the film progressed, wondered why Noyce hadn't gone all the way with "Phantom Of The Opera" style musical dirges every time Branagh appeared on screen.

Branagh plays Mr Neville. The Aboriginal children mispronounce it as "Devil", meaning he is referred to as "the Devil" or "the Devil Man" for much of the film. At one point, he gives a slide show to local women outlining how the Aboriginal race can effectively be "bred out" of existence. At another, he lifts the shirt tails of Aboriginal children, declaring them too black to be formally educated. Noyce's camera zooms in on Branagh's unblinking expression when he rejects a child by calmly, coolly saying "no".

This kind of Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker cinematic morality is dated, and dumb. Did Noyce and Baz Luhrmann go to the same Sydney film school?

Noyce passes on the story's human complexities, and concentrates instead on the sensational emotions that surround it. Of course it was terrible. Of course it was unjustifiable, inexcusable. Of course it now seems like genocide, human theft, slavery. But why paint the white Australians/English colonials with such broad, stock strokes? We know how horrible it was, but surely we want to know why it was, and who was involved, and wether any of them had misgivings, second thoughts, or a moral reaction at all. Were only the most ardent eugenicists sent from England to Australia? Why did European Empires systematically destabilise every indigenous culture they came into contact with? Why have the facts of the "Stolen Generations" been kept from Australians for so many decades? Who kept records? Who signed papers? Should they be called to account, posthumously?

No worthwhile answer to any of these questions is going to come out of a film like this, and audiences and critics should be ashamed of themselves for gobbling up some quick take-away virtue.

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originally posted: 03/14/02 01:27:21
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User Comments

4/14/16 Katrina Weiss Very determined kids, but a bittersweet ending. 4 stars
2/15/11 daveyt harrowing subject and well acted by the girls, 1500 mile journey made to look far too easy 3 stars
7/22/10 amartha i love this movie...emotional 5 stars
7/21/08 BOOFA This movie is horrible. The sense of distance isn't shown well and it's just another Bmovie 2 stars
3/19/08 shit head it was mad 4 stars
11/17/06 kara very good but i found molly didnt express the way she should of 4 stars
10/17/06 jose bererro awsome. to cool 4 school 5 stars
10/08/06 SL too plain, and authenticity of the Stolen Generation is questionable.. 2 stars
9/12/06 JR Sad that so few people will love and understand this movie. 5 stars
11/30/05 S A McKinley heartwrending 5 stars
11/08/05 none of your bisness stooooooooopid 1 stars
11/02/05 summer a quality film!!! worth a 10 star rating!! 5 stars
10/27/05 Lin Great and worth watching it 5 stars
10/25/05 Jo A good movie and definately worth watching! 4 stars
10/24/05 shandelle good 4 stars
8/27/05 ES Holy boring, why do critics rave about should obviously poor movies 1 stars
6/13/05 none great movie 5 stars
5/24/05 Linda Sharpe Very moving, similar to what happened to the mixed race children in Zimbabwe. 4 stars
3/10/05 Steph Awe-inspiring drama. Its so beautiful 5 stars
10/17/04 Charlene Javier Powerful doesn't begin to describe this. 5 stars
10/06/04 john bale No doubt well meaning in its way but a serious distortion of the truth. 3 stars
8/11/04 psycho dwarf avoids treacly pitfalls of the "kids with a cause" genre. 4 stars
4/18/04 anon Loved it 5 stars
4/02/04 Kaytie Chasm Its Fukn good aye ! itz really kool 1 stars
3/18/04 damien dylanson the movie sucked 1 stars
3/16/04 Dan Mackay Nothing over the top 3 stars
1/24/04 VW AMAZING, loved it! 5 stars
11/27/03 Sarah Packard It wasn't bad. Eye opener to what life was like for the half castes. Sad to watch 3 stars
11/10/03 Maysa Ashhab The best drama I have seen for years 5 stars
11/03/03 tehla levin it is excellant i loveit 5 stars
9/19/03 Jinnvisible Fine Film , Kenneth Branagh suits his rascist role, I wish he wasn`t in it, piss off Ken!! 4 stars
8/30/03 Kelly Mellinger touching and fascinating-not the best acting but good from kids who weren't actors to start 4 stars
7/20/03 matthew green filmmaking that stays out of the way, letting the amazing story tell itself. 5 stars
5/11/03 y2mckay Opens eyes to a dark chapter in Aussie history, but sometimes feels empty as the outback 4 stars
5/02/03 Diana Collado Great performance by the girls 4 stars
4/17/03 skye chapman could've and should've been so much more engaging 3 stars
4/02/03 Native American These are our stories. White people must see the RAPE of people and culture they commited 5 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones Good film - Everlyn Sampi and co very good. Disturbing. 4 stars
12/18/02 Heather Great cinematography and Peter Gabriel soundtrack, a must see 5 stars
11/24/02 Colin Selby A MUST SEE MOVIE 5 stars
11/21/02 Zaharin Hamid aka The Movie Samseng Excellent movie. People who wish to see something different should really watch this one. 5 stars
10/23/02 Kelly Excellent 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock A good try but ultimately a poor film. 3 stars
8/14/02 sam not bad and worth seeing if you want something new 4 stars
5/25/02 Hollie although it acked quiality acting and screen play, the overall power of it did some justice 4 stars
5/18/02 Amber Jarman Very good the best movie great acting involved 5 stars
5/17/02 viking Unforgetable !!! 5 stars
5/10/02 Catherine Cho really really really really cool 5 stars
4/28/02 Amy An excellent and most carefully detailed account of the stolen generation, must see!! 5 stars
4/27/02 Ella Hatten Its ok 3 stars
4/14/02 Tom Morgan Biased, I agree with the review, purely used to pull heartstrings, 2 stars
4/13/02 Pam Quite well done 4 stars
4/04/02 THIS MOVIE SUCKS R P F IS GAY 1 stars
4/03/02 Your dad Absolutley Brilliant! two very enthusiastic thumbs up 5 stars
3/29/02 Holly Salter Too timid. Probably because the director is afraid of upsetting Australian racists. 3 stars
3/24/02 your mum sucked ass 1 stars
3/21/02 Sartaj The movie is a profound experience. 5 stars
3/14/02 David An excellent Australian film - especially so, given the current climate. 4 stars
3/13/02 Matthew shit, biased 2 stars
3/10/02 nicholas mills this film is heart warming and unforgettable 5 stars
3/04/02 Jeff Walters Absolutely terrific. 5 stars
3/03/02 Lucas See it. Simple amazing story, well told! 5 stars
2/28/02 Vaughan Subtle and clever Sublime and cutting to whites. 4 stars
2/27/02 carp shit 2 stars
2/25/02 ^Elendil^ This is an amazing story. 5 stars
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  29-Nov-2002 (PG)



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