Review: Tracks (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: The true story of Australian adventurer Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) who, in 1977, set off on a nine-month journey across the Outback with nothing but a team of camels and her dog for company.
REVIEW: TRACKS is a major change of pace for director John Curran, who's certainly no stranger to TIFF, following his 2006 romance THE PAINTED VEIL, and his 2010 crime drama STONE. That last film was pretty much critically reviled, even though I have to admit I was (to some extent) drawn in by Edward Norton's strange performance in the title role. However THE PAINTED VEIL was a truly underrated movie, whose failure boggles my mind to this day.
Like THE PAINTED VEIL, TRACKS is driven by an incredible, potentially Oscar-worthy performance by it's female lead, in this case Mia Wasikowska. She also appeared in THE DOUBLE at TIFF, and while it that film she was warm as Jesse Eisenberg's dream-girl, here she's gives off a completely different vibe as Davidson. Similar to INTO THE WILD's Chris McCandless, Davidson's real goal isn't necessarily exploration, but rather the opportunity to live a different kind of life from what society expects from her by going back to the land.
Unlike McCandless, who was charming- at least in the film version- Davidson is so socially awkward, it seems like she could have Asperger's. In the Outback, surrounded by the at times deadly elements, she's fine. In town and surrounded by people, she struggles. An early scene where she's visited by her estranged sister and friends offers an interesting insight to her character. She struggles to be friendly, but can't over come her discomfort around people. The only two exceptions are the Aboriginal people, with whom she develops a certain kinship, and her beloved black Lab Diggity, who loyally follows her everywhere.
I've always liked Wasikowska thanks to roles like STOKER, but this is probably the strongest part she's had to date. It's almost a one woman show and she carries the film with aplomb. Adam Driver- from GIRLS and THE F WORD- has the only other sizable role as the National Geographic photographer who offers her sponsorship, with the catch that she allow him to meet up with her on the road every few weeks to photograph her. Unlike Wasikowska's occasionally cold Davidson, he's a kind man who struggles to establish some kind of rapport with her, and their relationship is intriguing. It's another winning performance by Driver, whose quickly establishing himself as a guy to watch.
The other noteworthy part is that of an Aboriginal elder named Eddy (Roly Mintuma) who accompanies Davidson on part of her journey. His role is almost entirely in an Aboriginal dialect, which she can't speak, and how their relationship grows despite this is an interesting part of the film.
Given the story, you can also safely assume that TRACKS is gorgeous, and the harsh Outback is shot beautifully by DP Mandy Walker, who also lensed Baz Luhrmann's AUSTRALIA. The Outback is a striking place to look at and the potential danger and perhaps foolhardiness of her journey is never under-emphasized.
The common complaint that I've heard about TRACKS is that- at close to two hours- watching Wasikowska and her camels (and dog) trek across the Outback gets a little mundane, although I don't necessarily share the sentiment. It's an interesting story about personal resilience and while it's not one of my top TIFF picks, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Wasikowska is good enough here I don’t think an Oscar nomination would be out of the question provided enough people see it. If you like real, fact-based adventure tales based on endurance rather than brawn, this is for you.