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New Release Review - Tracks

The story of Robyn Davidson, who trekked across Australia with four camels and a dog in tow.

Directed by: John Curran
Starring: Adam Driver, Mia Wasikowska, Emma Booth




In 1975, 25-year-old Australian Robyn Davidson (Wasikowska) arrives in the remote town of Alice Springs, eager to begin a trek across 1700 miles of desert to the Indian Ocean. To complete her journey, however, she will require the aid of several camels and so spends the next two years working on two camel farms until, as payment, she is given four of the beasts to take on her voyage. Robyn sets off but finds her quest constantly interrupted by Rick Smolan (Driver), a National Geographic (the magazine is funding her venture) photographer, the traditions of the native Aborigines, and the many tourists who have read about her journey in the press. Even in the remoteness of the outback, Robyn struggles to escape humanity.
People. People need people. That's the message hammered into the minds of the audience in John Curran's biopic of the youthful adventurer Robyn Davidson. If you've seen Sean Penn's Into the Wild, this approach will seem all too familiar, though Curran's film doesn't have such a narcissistic protagonist as Penn's. By reducing Davidson's tale to such an easily packaged idea, Curran does the explorer's accomplishments a dis-service. Far from the feminist icon Davidson became in the seventies upon the publication of her self-authored book, Tracks, here Davidson is a foolhardy girl out of her depth, constantly relying on the interventions of Smolan. It seems she can't move beyond the next sand dune without running into the photographer, while in reality they met a total of three times during Davidson's nine month journey.
Australian film-makers have a unique way of presenting their landscape, often viewed, likely through a sense of colonial guilt, subconscious or not, as a nightmarish world where the white man (or woman) isn't welcome. Films like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Long Weekend and Wake in Fright present a distinctively Australian take on man's relationship with his surroundings. Through the lens of American John Curran, the outback seems all too hospitable, making Davidson's journey seem like one any overweight tourist could make it through.
There's enough in Tracks to satisfy nature lovers but its narrative becomes repetitive as Curran struggles for an angle beyond trite sub Paulo Coelho philosophizing and childhood flashbacks. One can only imagine how great this could have been in the hands of a Terence Malick or Peter Weir.
5/10


Eric Hillis

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