John Curran’s “Tracks”

Tracks-Film

The most appalling thing about Tracks has nothing to do with the movie itself. Rather, it’s how it’s been handled by Harvey Weinstein the minute he picked up the domestic rights thirteen months ago, from keeping it out of U.S. theaters for an entire year to meagerly promoting it with misleading print advertising selling the film as a love story and pushing its supporting player over the star of the movie. Add to that its being a slowly-paced and subtle study of the human psyche devoid of the hyperactive drivel, bombast and rapid-fire editing that has audiences continuing to flock to superhero blockbusters in droves, and it’s little wonder why it suffered a sluggish opening in its limited-release debut. Worse, because of the long delay, it also has the misfortune of going up against another true-story woman-on-a-long-walk in Wild, the Reese Witherspoon-starring Oscar bait due out in December.

Apologies if I sound bitter, but this film, based on the eponymous 1980 bestseller by Robyn Davidson, directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), and ravishingly shot by Mandy Walker (Australia)— never has the scorched Outback looked more appealing— deserves a far better fate than getting swept under the rug. The heart of Tracks lies in not what it gives us, but what it doesn’t. When Davidson was asked why she would even do something so dangerous as walking nearly two thousand miles across western Australia en route to the Indian Ocean, she simply replied, “Why not?” That’s it. No drawn-out saga of finding one’s self or hurrying to fill in the blanks for viewers with convoluted reasoning.

In 1975, Robyn arrives in the roughneck central-Australian town of Alice Springs with a few suitcases, her loyal dog Diggity, and a dream of getting away from the world (and her biggest pet peeve, people) for awhile. She spends the next two years training wild camels that will carry her supplies. However, being short on money, she grudgingly writes to National Geographic, who will fund her trip on the condition that a staff photographer will intermittently chronicle her journey. Enter Rick Smolan (Girls’ Adam Driver), an awkward, smitten New York chatterbox who talks as if he’s hooked up to a generator. As expected, their personalities clash from the start, especially when Rick has her repeatedly pose for pictures while perched atop her camels. (“What happened to honest journalism?” she reasonably demands.) After many more frustrating meetings, things finally reach the point that she beds him inside her sleeping bag just to shut him up.

For the criticism of Tracks being slow-paced, I actually found it not slow enough. Alexandre de Franceschi’s editing rushes the proceedings at times and consequently crimps the audience’s ability to fully engage into Robyn’s much-desired sense of isolation, a problem that is compounded by the film‘s relatively short running time of just over an hour and 45 minutes. The additional early oversaturation of Rick’s presence on the journey also gets to be a bit much.

Driver exceeds in the mild comic-relief role that develops from an annoyance who photographs things he shouldn’t, to an element that Robyn realizes is essential to her survival. Another very memorable appearance is Rolley Mintuma as Mr. Eddy, an Aboriginal elder who guides her across sacred land and is just as talkative, but she is far more welcoming of his company. As for Robyn herself, Mia Wasikowska carries the film on her diminutive shoulders like the camels (all excellent actors themselves) that haul her supplies. Her dialogue is sparse aside from a few scattered voiceovers, yet all it takes is a simple flash of her eyes to effortlessly convey a spectrum of emotions from hardheadedness to vulnerability, and as her march drags on through the mercilessly parched landscape, the actress’s ensuing physical and mental transformation is a delight to behold.

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