Movie Review: Tracks

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A resilient young woman decides to cross the Australian desert accompanied only by a team of camels and her dog.

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John Curran, 2014

The film follows Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) as she attempts to make a camel trip in the early 1970s. We watch her arrive in Alice Springs with a bag, a dog called Diggity and a plan: to get some feral camels, train them to carry her belongings, and take a six-month trek across the Australian desert alone. She finds people who help (and hinder) the start of her trip, working hard for years to get going, and applies for a grant from National Geographic. The grant comes, but with a catch: a photographer, Rick (Adam Driver), will meet up with her at various stops along the way to take pictures of her on her trip. She sets off across the desert, meeting various people along the way, and goes through a number of trials as she attempts to make the trip across the vast, frequently beautiful, sometimes frightening landscape.

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Mia Wasikowska was amazing in Stoker, my favourite film of last year, so I decided to take a chance on this Australian movie. “Perilous journey” movies seem popular right now, and this isn’t the best of the bunch, but it’s a pretty solid effort. It suffers from the issue its genre faces of how to keep the journey interesting without making it too episodic. The filmmakers don’t seem to fully trust the material, its lead actress, or the impressive cinematography to hold our interest; instead it fills the screen with people and threats, distracting from any sense we might glean of the loneliness and difficulty of making this journey. There is only one truly moving moment in the film, and it is given ample time to sink in; perhaps if other relationships and events had been given the same consideration, the film might have been better. There are too many scenes that could easily be removed without having any effect on the film, and the focus on the physical and emotional toll the journey takes on Robyn would have been much more interesting.

Wasikowska continues to prove herself one of the best actresses currently working. She’s very impressive in the role, which is good because you see a lot of her. Robyn is a prickly loner of a character, a fantastic female role we don’t always get to see, and Wasikowska makes her eminently relatable. Adam Driver is fine as Rick, though most of his action is awkward reaction. There are a lot of Aboriginal supporting cast members, which is good to see; Roly Mintuma brings humour and heart to the movie in a mostly non-English speaking role as Aboriginal elder Eddie. The rest of the interactions are largely forgettable. The cinematography, however, is stunning; there are some beautiful shots of parts of Australia we don’t always get to see. The desert as portrayed in this film is varied and interesting, but the threat it poses goes largely unmentioned; there’s a couple of feral bull camels, one snake, and some sunburn. It’s not a bad film, and it might do well on the international festival circuit, but it’s not a great film either.

Tracks on IMDb

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