|UK Release Date||25th April2014|
|Reviewed||22nd April 2014|
Robyn Davidson’s book has taken a while and a few attempts to finally arrive on our screens. A National Geographic article in 1978, then a book in 1980 chronicled her astonishing trip across the Australian outback. Sydney Pollack and Disney have both made starts at a movie version of the book but neither managed to get past casting. Now, finally, screenwriter Marion Nelson and director John Curran have managed the complete job.
For regular readers, it no doubt goes without saying that I have not read the novel Tracks, though from what I gather, it went down very well with the girls. No wonder given it’s heroine. A hippyish Queenslander abandoning anything resembling normal life and hitting out across the outback from Alice Springs with the goal of walking to the West Coast. Anyone looking for a comparison of distance there… well, it’s twice the distance of walking from Lands End to John o’Groats. Only through the largely uninhabited desert. It’s an impressive feat and one made all the more impressive given the stated reason - ‘why not?’.
Robyn (Mia Wasikowska) reluctantly agrees to let National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) meet her at intervals along the way in order to help her with the cash she needs for the trip. It’s her only concession. She spends months before the trip preparing on a camel farm and heads off with just her dog and four camels to keep her company.
If all this is sounding just a bit too hippyish for you, don’t despair, this isn’t an eco-warrior tale or a pretentious anthropologist bemoaning the state of the indigenous people. Robyn’s reason is just ‘why not?’ and there is no grandstanding or moralising getting in the way here. In fact, this is more a movie about bloody mindedness than anything else. Davidson comes across as one of the most stubborn characters I’ve ever seen in a movie and you’ll love her all the more for it. Nothing gets this woman down.
As Davidson, Wasikowska simply is this movie. The only significant human role in the entire film, her performance is the difference between success and failure here and she is a magnetic presence. The magnificent cinematography threatens on many occasions to overwhelm her diminutive figure but she shines. Like a shabby, student version of O’Toole’s TE Lawrence, she shuffles through breathtaking landscape, trailing her pack animals and growing in stature with every pace. There’s no glamour in this performance, Wasikowska shows all the physical signs of her trek and we never once doubt that she is very much in the middle of the desert.
The photography itself is every bit as stunning as you’d expect from the magnificent outback and cinematographer Mandy Walker frames it perfectly, no more so than the wonderful ending. Screenwriter Nelson has resisted what must have been a powerful urge to turn this into a road movie rom-com between Davidson and Smolan and in many ways it’s the making of the movie. What could have turned into just another perfectly warm and fuzzy rom-com avoids all of that nonsense and stays true to Davidson’s original trip. Smolan drifts in and out of her life at her convenience as she makes her own way through the outback.
Her only other human company once she has begun her trip proper are the indigenous people she encounters along the way. Required at one stage to take ‘an old fella’ with her in order to cross sacred grounds, it’s the only period of her journey with consistent human company. Roly Mintuma is wonderful as said old fella Eddie. A perfect companion for Davidson in that he speaks little English and doesn’t crave to make sense of her journey, it’s a wonderful character to compliment the hard headed girl.
If I have an issue with Tracks it’s one that comes built in to the whole story. The reason Davidson’s journey is so unique is that she never really knew why she was doing it. By the end of the movie, she remains as enigmatic as she was at the start. The viewer is left to speculate over her motivations (her mother’s suicide whilst she was a child weighs heavy) but it’s unlikely anyone will ever find a definitive answer. But that’s no reason to mark this wonderful movie down. From the dust, dirt and profound isolation of the Australian desert, we’re dragged along with Davidson as she makes her way towards an unknown horizon. The closing shots as she treks over the final dunes and first lays eyes on the pounding blue surf are breathtaking and the emotional release of diving into the waves will bring a tear to your eye.
Check out the trailer here.