Friday, 10 July 2015

Review: Tracks

Tracks (2013) - Directed by John Curran

Following on from Into The Wild in a loose theme, we come across another true-story film about someone travelling through the wilderness. Like that film, this film has amazing cinematography and landscapes, although unlike that film, I don't hate the main protagonist. Starring Mia Wasikowska (Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland) and Adam Driver (Frances Ha) the story follows future travel writer Robyn Davidson on her single-minded quest to trek across the Australian desert with nothing but four camels and a dog in 1977, and despite its fairly lackadaisical pace it more than makes up for it with barrelfuls of charm and astounding visuals.
     I'll admit the only other role I've seen Wasikowska in was her American breakout film Alice In Wonderland, where many found her attempt to act unworldly come across as a tad static. I'm convinced now that that was down to the script and not the actress, as Wasikowska's portrayal of Davidson is layered and subtle, capturing her both in moments of dogged determination and strength, and in the journey's low points where, struck by isolation and heat, she begins to lose herself. Which is lucky, as she's rarely ever off-screen, and carries most of the film reacting off of the landscape, and a small cast of side characters devoted to aiding or documenting her journey.The only other standout character is Driver's Rick Smolan, Davidson's photographer and sort-of love interest, who despite less than promising beginnings is able to develop from an annoying presence to a decent guy.
     John Curran treats the story with a great deal of artistic loyalty - he doesn't big up Davidson as some kind of folk hero as Penn did to the subject of Into The Wild - he lets the character more or less tell her own story. An important aspect of this is the cinematography - deserts are at risk of becoming very boring, but Curran manages to make every shot beautiful and uses them to contribute towards the film's amazing otherworldly tone. Borrowing heavily from the culture of the Aboriginal people that Davidson met along her journey, the film's imagery and sound design evokes a spirituality which manages to establish the film's dual nature as both a travelogue of Davidson's journey and as a wider examination of life and culture in the Australian outback.
Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) and her dog Diggity.
     It's hard to pick this out as a thing because of the film's biographical nature, but I seriously love this film's narrative structure. Way before the journey actually begins, we follow Davidson's arrival in Alice Springs and her attempt to set herself up for the journey, learning about camels and arranging funding from National Geographic. In all this she is fundamentally ungrounded - an ethereal girl with a few mentions of a home life, but with that base replaced by her determination to make her trip. But just before she's about to leave, her friends arrive - clean clothed, evidently used to society, they instantly force Davidson into context, both making her seem much stranger than before, and, in my case, demonstrating more than ever why she wanted to make the trip in the first place. Her friends come and they booze and chatter and argue and even though I probably have more in common with them than I do Davidson, the structure just makes me get it. It's genius.
     It's lucky that I'm reviewing this straight after I reviewed Into The Wild. I feel guilty about making the comparison so often because this should really stand on its own, but the similarities between the films are just so striking. This journey is a triumph and not a tragedy - admittedly, you know, Davidson survived and became a writer, while Chris McCandless died on his journey, but the truth is that their journeys are just as ill-advised as the other. The difference is that even in the harsh environment of the Outback, Davidson never fully rejects other people, and one of the lessons she appears to learn in her travels is to value the connections she has with those close to her. She's an inspiring woman, this is an inspiring film, and I'd really recommend it.

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