Noyce's film follows the fate of three indigenous girls from the Jigalong mob in Western Australia, who are abducted under Neville's orders and relocated to a mission, the Moore River Native Settlement, situated some 2000 kilometers away. Placed in a crowded, Dickensian dormitory and force-fed Christian hymns, the girls resolve to run the risk of escaping. Led by the tenacious Molly (Everlyn Sampi), they set out following the rabbit-proof fence that leads back to their home. The mission's cunning tracker, Moodoo ("Walkabout's" David Gulpilil), is swiftly sent in close pursuit. As the days pass and Moodoo's search proves fruitless, Neville ("Hamlet's" Kenneth Branagh) grows wary of the bad publicity and orders a nationwide hunt for the young runaways.
With "Rabbit-Proof Fence," Noyce has tailored an epic tale into a lean, economical movie. Drawing impressive performances from his young leads (all non-actors), he directs with sensitivity and an impressive level of objectivity. As the much-feared Mr. Neville (the children call him "Mr. Devil"), Kenneth Branagh gives a typically complex performance, successfully steering his character away from the perilous realms of stereotype.
This emotionally harrowing yet spiritually uplifting tale is the kind that often fares well with the Academy. Based on a true story (and adapted from Doris Pilkington's account "Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence"), it authentically captures a specific historical era yet at the same time treats staple universal themes. The film's technical credits are impeccable. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle's desaturated colors complement the imposingly barren outback landscape, while Peter Gabriel delivers his first full feature score since 1995's "Strange Days." A thoroughly accomplished achievement, "Rabbit-Proof Fence" won the audience award at the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival. Starring Everlyn Sampi, Kenneth Branagh, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan and David Gulpilil. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Written by Christine Olsen. Produced by Phillip Noyce, Christine Olsen and John Winter. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated PG for emotional thematic material. Running time: 93 min