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Tracks - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published March 1st 2014
Once more into the wild
Director: John Curran (Praise, The Painted Veil)
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Rolley Mintuma, Tim Rogers

A common criticism levelled at the Australian film industry is that the process of script development is often not rigorous enough to compete on an international level. It's a valid point and a frustrating one too. After all, it's not as though we don't have stories to tell. So it's cause for celebration when a story as striking as Tracks is brought to the big screen with such skill and care.

tracks mia wasikowska
Mia Wasikowska is the perfect physical and emotional representation of Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson's 1977 book, on which this is based, struck a chord with the public on its release, and the reasons for its popularity seem just as relevant today. Davidson was in her mid twenties when she left her comfortable urban surroundings and trekked across the width of Australia with nothing but a dog, four camels, a tent and a few cans of lentils. Astoundingly, she survived to write about it. It's the classic man (or in this case woman) versus nature tale, and like Sean Penn's Into the Wild has an idealistic, young protagonist at its heart.

Those expecting show-stopping confrontations with natural disasters or stampedes of carnivorous beasts may initially be disappointed. What we see is death-defying, but in a much more insidious way. The cumulative effect that this arduous journey has on our heroine is mesmerising and complex. After a while we can't be sure what's real and what's imagined. Incidents from Davidson's past begin to take prominence in her mind, subtly providing the audience with possible reasons for her undertaking such an enormous challenge and why she is so reticent to be around other people. The huge irony of course, is that her actions made her world famous and the media attention that resulted impacted greatly on her privacy.

Taking on the role of Robyn would seem just as daunting as the real-life journey itself, but Mia Wasikowska fits the part like a glove. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role, and indeed she was Davidson's personal choice. It's a warts and all portrayal with Davidson coming off as stoic, prickly and stubborn, yet Wasikowska embodies her with such intelligence and dignity, especially in the scenes where she unexpectedly succumbs to her insecurities and feelings of self-doubt. Wasikowska easily carries the film on her assured, sun burnt shoulders, despite the attempts of four very charismatic camels to steal the show from under her.

It's essentially a solo trek, but during the near 200 day walk in the searing heat, Davidson has some temporary companions who all register strongly, most notably the borderline hilarious Mr Eddie (Rolley Mintuma) and current American indie It boy Adam Driver, whose character Rick Smolan has just the right balance of socially awkward vulnerability and sturdiness to be the perfect foil and counter balance for Davidson. The interplay between them is fascinating and pleasingly veers away from any kind of Hollywood Ending romantic conformity.

tracks mia wasikowska adam driver
Davidson (Wasikowska) and Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) defy the typical romantic cliches

During the end credits we see the original photos of Smolan which were the inspiration for the film's visual style. They are absolutely stunning, and veteran cinematographer Mandy Walker has done an exceptional job of bringing to life the vivid colours and textures of the outback. Garth Stevenson's understated score further adds to the film's seductive qualities.

Fans of the book will likely be pleased with what they see here, and it's fair to assume the film will increase the book's fan base. In today's world of cyber saturation, its easy to imagine Robyn Davidson's experience being an inspiration to a whole new generation.

This is a distinctively Australian story, but one which an international audience will easily relate to and embrace.

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Why? Literally the best Australian film in years
Where: At selected cinemas
Your Comment
Thank you I will go and see this movie now just because of your write up. I love Australian Movies however sometimes the movie is only as good as the trailer. I very much appreciated the depth of your review.
by Anne Dignam (score: 2|870) 1474 days ago
Great review.
Thank you.
by citri (score: 0|5) 1466 days ago
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