The long road home

"Rabbit-Proof Fence" isn't one of the year's most exciting titles. But the movie behind it packs many scenes of action and suspense, even if it runs short of the deep human interest its fact-based story could have provided.

The historical reality that inspired this drama is Australia's former policy of removing mixed-race children from their Aboriginal homes and putting them in boarding schools, where they were trained for menial positions in white society. This practice began in 1905 and continued until 1971.

The main character is Molly Craig, a lively 14-year-old who refuses to accept her duly decreed fate. Taking her younger sister and cousin under her wing, she engineers an escape from the "native settlement" where they're being held. Together the children head for Jigalong, the home territory they hail from.

Their plan is to follow the fantastically long fence constructed to keep pasture-destroying rabbits at bay. On their heels is Moodoo, a tracker dispatched to bring them back. Fuming over their flight is A.O. Neville, the chief protector of Aborigines in Western Australia, outraged at this breach of his total control over the lives and destinies of the people under his jurisdiction.

While this is powerful material, Australian director Phillip Noyce puts more stress on the mechanics of the chase than on the inner lives of the girls or the friends and foes they encounter during their trek, which takes them across 1,500 miles over a three-month period.

Kenneth Branagh overplays his portrayal of Neville, but most of the other characters are skillfully acted by a solid cast, including the great Aborigine actor David Gulpilil as the tracker. In all, this is a watchable movie that's not quite the memorable experience it might have been.

Rated PG; contains violence.

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