By Simon Miraudo
March 3, 2014
Mia Wasikowska will walk 500 miles, and then she’ll walk 1200 more in John Curran’s Tracks, a cinematic restaging of Robyn Davidson’s epic trek across the West Australian desert. Davidson’s journey, embarked upon for reasons of ostensible self-discovery and captured in her biography of the same name, remains one of the most audacious, most impressive things an Australian has ever done, though when translated into film form, a viewer soon realises, “Oh, we’re just going to watch her walk for an hour now.” Not to fear. Wasikowska’s quietly determined lead performance, the presence of Girls’ scene-stealer Adam Driver as the intrepid National Geographic photojournalist who intermittently interrupts her trip for a few snaps, and Mandy Walker’s fall-to-your-knees-inspiring cinematography help breathe life and movement into a narrative that is otherwise as sparse as the desert plains themselves.
Davidson went walkabout in 1977, leaving behind her friends, family, and almost all her earthly possessions for a nine-month trip that spanned 2,700km and took her from Alice Springs all the way to the Indian Ocean. Wasikowska’s early voice over narration gives few clues as to her motivations, however, flashbacks to a once-idyllic past and the untimely death of her mother help to colour in those gaps. After spending a few months learning to tame feral camels (an untold number of which roam the Australian outback), she prepares to venture out, trusty canine Digger by her side. Desperate to be alone (from humans at least), Robyn acknowledges she doesn’t have enough money for supplies, and reluctantly pitches herself to the Geographic for an article. Much to her chagrin, photog Rick Smolan (Driver, an uncanny doppelganger of the real life subject) is sent to meet up with her at various points on her proposed trajectory. In what sounds like a Hollywood invention but is actually the god’s honest truth, the two of them spark up a kind-of romantic relationship in their dry, barren environment.
This is largely the Mia Wasikowska show, and no movie has ever been hurt by having more of her in it. The diminutive actress holds the screen and our attention despite the stunning scenery always threatening to take it away. Driver, so good in Girls, proves himself to be a charismatic and compelling film star, so please give him his own flick now. A number of welcome character actors pop up throughout Tracks – Tim Rogers, is that you? – yet the best of the lot is Roly Mintuma as the Indigenous tracker who escorts Robyn over the most perilous stretch of land, and becomes a brilliant comic foil without ever becoming the butt of the joke.
Robyn faces her fair share of obstacles – from rampaging feral camels to disorientation to general psychological despair – but there’s really no getting around the flick’s biggest obstacle: this is all about a woman who walked for nine months. It’s a struggle screenwriter Marion Nelson just barely overcomes, but at 113 minutes, Tracks will likely feel as if it’s outstaying its welcome to all but the most devoted camel aficionados. The lingering question of why Robyn is doing this and what she has achieved – internally – by feature’s end remains vague. Those camel fans, however, are in for a real treat.
Tracks arrives in Australian cinemas March 6, 2014.