AT FIRST pass a story about euthanasia is not something that you might want to sit down with a bag of popcorn to see, but Last Cab to Darwin is a ride that's worth the fare.
Love, racism, dignity, friendship, humour and a confrontation with mortality - it's an epic Australian road trip with the lot.
Nuanced and well cast, the film certainly had potential to be heavy going, but instead tells a heartfelt tale about finding the true meaning of life in the face of death.
It follows the journey, both physical and emotional, of Broken Hill taxi driver Rex (Michael Caton) as he sets out to drive to Darwin in a bid to die on his own terms after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few months to live.
Director Jeremy Sims and writer Reg Cribb had originally developed a popular stage play based on the true story of cabbie Max Bell and despite a successful tour of the country decided they had made a stage play of a story that should have been a film.
"The movie is not really an adaptation of that. We went away and forgot about the stage play and started again with the film," Sims said.
The labour of love took seven years to be realised, but was worth the wait to find the perfect matches to bring the characters to life.
"Michael Caton and that character melded almost immediately. At the first public reading we did everyone bawled their eyes out including Caton and at that point we realised that we should go forward with that configuration and he's been involved in all the casting."
Other familiar faces include Ningali Lawford-Wolf who plays Polly, Rex's neighbour and not-so-secret lover, and Jacki Weaver as ambitious Darwin euthanasia advocate Dr Nicole Farmer. Up-and-comer Mark Coles Smith also stands out as the lively but unsettled Tilly.
Set against the Australian outback, Sims sees it as something of a coming-of-age film despite the protagonist's later stage of life.
"We're hoping it finds a broad audience. I worked hard to make a script that would have broad appeal - a piece of entertainment for everyone and not a narrow art house piece of work," he said.
The story deals with some heavy subject matter, but manages to ease the emotional burden with a generous dash of dry humour.
"Those serious issues are in the film, but (people) don't feel that they are being preached to or told what to think about those subjects and that's something that we worked really hard on. We wanted to lead people to think about it, but not tell them what to think.
"There are a lot of films that just deal with dying, but how to live while dealing with the last part of your life is a really important debate for us all to have and rather than it being 'another documentary about euthanasia' for it to tell a story about someone thinking about it in this way is really helpful," he said.
The confronting content still hits its mark though.
"It's turning out to be a bit of a tear-jerker. We didn't realise how affecting it would be on audiences, but we're thrilled that it is - it's a wonderful feeling to go to the cinema and be made to feel something and that doesn't happen very often."
Last Cab to Darwin opens in cinemas on Thursday.
Last Cab to Darwin
Stars: Michael Caton, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, Jacki Weaver, Emma Hamilton and Mark Coles Smith
Director: Jeremy Sims
Reviewer's last words: A film that lingers after the closing credits have rolled.
Star profile: Mark Coles Smith
Quirky fact: He has also worked in audio production and sound design.
Best known for: Beneath Hill 60, Airlock, Hard Rock Medical, a cameo in Modern Family.
If you like this movie you'll like these: Bran Nue Dae, Red Dog, The Sapphires.
Quote: "I got on with absolutely everyone (on Modern Family) except Sofia (Vergara) but only because I didn't have the courage to talk to her because I found her so absolutely gorgeous"