RABBIT-PROOF FENCE — *** 1/2 — Everlyn Sampri, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, Kenneth Branagh, David Gulpilil, Ningali Lawford, Deborah Mailman; in English and Aboriginal, with English subtitles; rated PG (violence, mild profanity, racial epithets); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for a complete listing of local theaters.
Make no mistake, "Rabbit-Proof Fence" is a fine little movie. But knowing that it's based on a true story gives it additional strength and emotional heft. You'd have to be a most hard-hearted person not to be moved by this drama, which explores the unbreakable bond between children and parents, as well as the cruelty and inhumanity of man.
The film's attempts to explore the latter subject — which includes racism — are extremely subtle by today's moviemaking standards. And because the movie doesn't bludgeon the audience with its messages, it is extremely welcome.
"Rabbit-Proof Fence" is a well-made film all the way around, recalling the works of pioneering Australian filmmakers Peter Weir and George Miller — British director Nicolas Roeg's mesmerizing 1971 film "Walkabout."
The title of this period piece refers to a series of fences that once ran throughout the Australian outback, designed to keep pests out of grazing land. But they may also provide a route home for Molly (Everlyn Sampri), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan), three Aboriginal girls who were fathered by white men.
Australian law in the early '30s allowed the authorities to remove such children from their homes "for their own protection." They were then sent to "missions," where they were trained to be domestic servants.
However, these three girls have no desire to be servants. So they run away from the Moore River "mission" and begin making their way back home, cleverly using the fences as a directional aid. Still, they've got 1,500-plus miles to go before they can be reunited with their families.
The film's director, Phillip Noyce, is best known for making big-budget thrillers, his biggest hits being "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger." But here he seems to relish the opportunity to tell a more intimate, simple story. And he has placed a lot of trust in the three newcomers who play the girls, as they must carry the film with their performances. Thankfully, they're all naturals, demonstrating a grace that belies their relatively young ages.
"Rabbit-Proof Fence" is rated PG for violence (violent restraints and scenes of punishment) and scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based) and racial epithets. Running time: 94 minutes.