Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama
Directed by: John Curran
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Emma Booth
Considering the immense size of the Australian Outback, it isn’t much of a surprise to find that many of the films set there adhere to the conventions of the horror genre. Many true-life tales have been told of people who have traveled into the Bush in search of adventure and never returned. These are the stories that have gone on to cinematically define Australia’s vast countryside as a place teeming with dangerous animals, threatening locals, and insurmountable odds of survival.
The journey experienced by naturalist Robyn Davidson couldn’t have been more different. In 1977, Davidson set off on a 1700-mile trek across the Australian Desert, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, with only her loyal dog and four camels for company. Along the way Davidson regularly met up with photographer Rick Smolan, who documented her journey for the National Geographic, and spent time with native aborigines, who accompanied her for part of the adventure.
Supported by Mandy Walker’s sumptuous cinematography, Davidson’s tale is vividly brought to life on the big screen. Not since Walkabout has a film captured the Australian Desert with such a fascinated eye. The vast expanses of golden sand, eternally covered by the ripples of the beating sun, are breathtakingly beautiful. Aided by Garth Stevenson’s majestic score, director John Curran paints a visually astounding portrait of the Australian Bush. It’s a wild and wonderful habitat, enriched by the sacred beliefs of its aboriginal inhabitants. Davidson’s journey is richly detailed, crafting tones that are inspirational in her determination and foreboding in her risk.
With the narrative resting entirely on her sunburnt shoulders, Mia Wasikowska gives an admirably subtle performance. Her embodiment of a woman determined to achieve more than people would ever expect of her is inspiring, while her desire to do so without the help of any other person is extraordinary. Wasikowska utilises her sharp eyes and softly spoken voice to capture Davidson’s enigmatic personality with flair, building a driven character that should add layers of depth to complement the astonishing natural beauty of the setting.
It’s here that the film becomes so frustratingly empty. First-time screenwriter Marion Nelson does a superb job documenting Davidson’s journey, but in doing so she has failed to show enough interest in Davidson herself. Despite flashbacks, which hark back to a troubled adolescence, the true motives for Davidson’s journey remain a mystery. Not that this is in itself a problem, in fact it complements Davidson’s perplexing persona. The real issue is in the challenging distance it creates between Davidson and the audience. Despite Wasikowska’s best efforts, Davidson remains disappointingly aloof throughout; making both her epic journey, as well as her changing attitudes towards peace and solitude, feel meaningless and inconsequential.
The power ingrained within Wasikowska’s performance and Australia’s natural splendour does manage to hold your attention though. Adam Driver pops up from time to time, injecting the film with moments of quirky humour as Rick Smolan. However, the issues with the script are unavoidable. The more personal and poignant parts of Davidson’s journey, which sustain much of the narrative’s third act, become lost; failing to carry the emotional weight they demand.
It’s this lack of connection between Davidson and the audience that causes Tracks to fall short of being a journey that’s as incredible cinematically as it was in reality. When Davidson left Alice Springs in search of adventure and herself, it’s a shame the rhyme and reason behind it went walkabout with her.