Peter Gabriel provides the score for Rabbit-Proof Fence, and although it is atmospheric, it's also strangely indistinctive. Which is an appropriate observation when discussing this film. Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on a true story about three half-white, half-Aboriginal girls who, in 1931, escaped from what could best be called a concentration camp for mixed race children. They traveled on foot for 1,500 miles across unforgiving Western Australia terrain, determined to return to their tribal families.
As the girls, the three young unprofessional actresses all do remarkably well, and they are matched by a mercifully low-key Kenneth Branagh as the "school's" headmaster who wants them back, and by the great Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil as the tracker on their trail. Though he has just one line in the whole film, Gulpilil's weathered face reveals his character's determination, sympathy, and guilt – he is, after all, keeping his own people from their families.
After their collaboration on The Quiet American, director Noyce and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Aussies both, pair up again to capture the harsh desert lands in all their glory. This is a handsome production, well-made and well-intentioned.
Yet I have to say that the film itself lacks bite. You get the feeling that all the sweat went into the production and not into the art, if you catch my drift. It must have been difficult for writer/producer/director Noyce to work with unknown actors in the middle of nowhere – nearly the entire movie takes place outside, in the searing heat – and he may have been so caught up in making it perfect that he missed out on making it different. I would have rather seen something rougher and angrier.
If you see Rabbit-Proof Fence, I don't think you'll regret it – I certainly didn't – but I will say this: When I went to go see the film, just about everybody in the audience got up at least once to leisurely wander off to the bathroom. In other words, this is a movie where you can skip out for any given five minutes and not feel like you missed anything.