Director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) returns to his native continent with this based-in-fact film that has already caused considerable controversy Down Under. In 1931, the "White Australia Policy" decreed that "half-caste" Aboriginal children fathered by whites would be forcibly removed from their homes and trained for domestic servitude. Many of these children were fathered by the men who built and maintained the rabbit-proof fence that bisects Australia. The heroines of Noyce’s story, Molly, Daisy, and Gracie, are taken from their mothers in Jigalong and sent to a settlement 1200 miles away — but with plucky Molly (Everlyn Sampi in an impressive debut — see "Film Culture," on page 7) leading the way, the girls escape, traveling by night and foraging for food as they search for and follow the fence that will lead them back home.
Pieced together from letters and police reports, the straightforward narrative refuses to demonize the government’s actions. Kenneth Branagh is understated as the official overseeing the investigation; Walkabout’s David Gulpilil is superb as a silent tracker who may be torn between duty and racial loyalty. Peter Gabriel’s evocative score and Christopher Doyle’s gorgeous photography enliven this glimpse into Australia’s dark imperialistic past. (94 minutes)