Follow these Tracks to find beautiful images
Review by Daniel Rester
Tracks is one of the more breathtakingly beautiful films in terms of natural imagery that I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s easy to enjoy stunning CGI-based achievements like Life of Pi (2012) and Gravity (2013), yet there is nothing like seeing the realness of Earth’s landscapes displayed gorgeously in front of your eyes. Nearly every frame in Tracks could be a mounted picture on a wall, and that is something to admire.
The film is based on the memoir of the same name by Robyn Davidson. It chronicles how Davidson (played here by Mia Wasikowska) journeyed across half of Australia over a nine-month period in 1977. She went all the way from Alice Springs to the west coast of the continent, which is about 1,700 miles in length. Davidson set out with four camels and a dog, going on the adventure just because of her choosing.
The trip was also sponsored by National Geographic Magazine, with photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) meeting up with her to take pictures at various points along the way. Davidson and Smolan had an on again, off again type of romantic relationship as well. The film goes over all of this, as well as Davidson’s encounters with a number of other people and of course the varied landscapes. It also mixes in her annoyance with journalists while on the journey, as well as her dwelling on her mother’s suicide that occurred when she was just a girl.
Tracks is directed by John Curran, who has previously made such films as The Painted Veil (2006) and The Killer Inside Me (2010). One can feel his passion behind Tracks as he unfolds the richness of these amazing parts of Australia. Yet he lets the story, character, and images do the work without getting too artsy or doing a lot of quick cutting.
The cinematography by Mandy Walker is completely smooth as it gives us a welcome blend of wide shots, close-ups, tracking shots, etc. These images are all orchestrated perfectly by Curran and Editor Alexandre de Franceschi, who give the pictures a bit of looseness as they often cross-fade while the graceful music score by Garth Stevenson plays in the background. Tracks earns its appeal by capturing so much in an effortless-seeming manner, from the little looks of Davidson to the peculiar camel growls to the moon lighting up the Australian desert.
Curran’s film tells a simple story and really doesn’t have much that happens in terms of big dramatics. Some will complain about this and might find Tracks slow and boring at times. I did feel that the first thirty minutes or so could have used some trimming in order to shorten the picture; these opening scenes of Davidson working at camel ranches before her journey are a bit tedious.
Though the movie moves at a leisurely pace, I found much to take in, and that made it more rewarding than aggravating. I have already commented on the technical side of things in terms of imagery and music, but there is more to admire.
Screenwriter Marion Nelson’s dialogue feels natural, and she doesn’t try to force unnecessary self-discovery lines in there. She instead just lets Davidson’s freedom, loneliness, and other feelings come through in Curran’s treatment and Wasikowska’s performance; the subtle touches in dealing with the pain of death also ring true throughout the film.
Wasikowska does an incredible job here, giving a performance that is rich with nuance and underlying emotion. Driver is terrific as well as Smolan, giving a more toned-down performance than usual. The two of them have organic chemistry, whether it be in the romance or annoyance in the characters dealing with one another.
I wish I knew a little more about Davidson and Smolan’s backgrounds by the film’s finish. The picture would have also been slightly more effective, I think, if it ran 15-20 minutes shorter. Little issues aside though, Tracks really connected with me and made me think about “those journeys of self-discovery.” It’s in that personal connection that will determine whether a person really enjoys the film or not. Either way, though, there is no denying the beauty of the unbelievable images on display.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: R (for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 52 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (limited).