Tracks (2013) **1/2
Dir. John Curran
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) was an Aussie hippie chick who abandoned a formal post-secondary education and instead lived with a bunch of radical animal science types n Adelaide (where she learned a whole ton about God's creatures). She subsequently joined a left-wing organization of wanker egghead fruitcakes in Sydney (that included the likes of Germaine Greer) where she grooved the Bohemia electric. In the 70s she settled in the middle of nowhere and learned everything she always wanted to know about camels (and was, decidedly, not afraid to ask). Her first experience was with a brutal camel farmer who exploited her until finally, she met and worked for a kindly camel expert who taught her a great deal and partially bankrolled what was to become her biggest challenge.
Davidson's ultimate goal was to trek 1700 miles alone across the deserts of Western Oz from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. Well, she wasn't completely alone - she had her faithful mutt and a handful of ornery, but loyal camels. Since her trip was financed by the National Geographic Society, she was occasionally in the company of Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a photographer who would add the pictorial materials to Robyn's eventual story in the famous wildlife magazine. The two enjoyed an on-again-off-again love affair and eventually Robyn wrote the full length memoir that this film is based upon.
This is by no means a dreadful film. Wasikowska is a pleasing screen presence and very easy on the eyes. When the film focuses upon Robyn and the camels, it's pretty engaging - especially in the first third of the movie. Unfortunately, something is off about the period detail in terms of the performance of the genuinely annoying Adam Driver who seems completely miscast and throws the picture off balance anytime he's on-screen.
Even the picture's sense of place seems off. The movie feels like a Walt Disney True Life Nature Adventure set in the wilds of Australia (with occasionally chaste boinking). Tracks certainly doesn't have the richness in both period and ethnographic detail that is so infused in works like Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout and Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright. We never really feel any danger or mystery in the proceedings and other than the early going, the central conflict has no real punch.
This is more than a bit surpising since John Curran's direction of the exquisite film adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novel The Painted Veil was so rich in period detail and observational attention to character nuance. Here, howeve, the leading actors wear everything on their respective sleeves and we're left with little more than a girl and her camels, doggie and an occasonal poke under the desert sky from an enormously unappealing actor.
The movie clips along amiably enough and the scenery is almost always a saving grace, but somehow the whole thing feels a touch inconsequential. While it might provide momentary and relatively inoffensive entertainment as a girls' adventure tale, Tracks doesn't stick to your cerebellum, but rather, sticks to your craw.
"Tracks" is part of the TIFF Special Presentation series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013. Visit the TIFF website HERE. The film is distributed by Mongrel Media.