4 stars
“Sometimes, to work out who you actually are, you need to put all distractions aside,” said producer Emile Sherman (Tracks / The Kings Speech). And in 1975 Robyn Davidson did exactly that. Weary of her class and privilege, the 25 year old hoped to discover herself in a static-free zone somewhere between Alice Springs and the Indian Ocean. With four cranky camels and her dog Diggity for company, she started walking west and embarked on an unprecedented journey of over 2,700km. Her 'ridiculous plan' became a cover article for National Geographic, then a book which in turn became a touchstone for ambitious travellers everywhere. Forty years on, it's now a film.

Australian director John Curran (Praise / The Painted Veil / We Don't Live Here Anymore) is a perfect match for this narrative about outback isolation and sheer bloody mindedness. Attracted to the idea of 'doing something radical when you're a bit stuck', Tracks resonates with an appealing otherness. More importantly, Curran has a painter's eye for capturing visual intensity. He marries the outback's unrelenting ferocity with Davidson's uncompromising drive, yet finds space for the tender intimacy which she, and the landscape, reveal at the most unlikely moments.

Central to all this is a luminescent Mia Wasikowska (The Turning / Stoker) working at home for the first time in nearly a decade. Her seemingly effortless performance captures all of Davidson's fear, desire, belligerence, humour and loneliness with ease. No mean feat given the enormous physical and emotional demands of the shoot, something that undoubtedly informed, indeed unshackled, that performance.

Not only was the intensity of this often hostile expedition central to the film, so too was Davidson's relationship with charismatically goofy photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver – Inside Llewyn Davis). He had struck an irritating, Faustian bargain with her – much needed funding could be arranged through National Geographic if he was allowed to appear once a month and take photos, effectively becoming a FIFO companion. He did, but as she became more elusive, her story, and his photographs, became even more fascinating.

Yet despite the eye-catching appeal of Mandy Walker's luminescent cinematography, Tracks is a great deal more than an arm-chair holiday. Without the burden of cuteness (easier said than done given star turns by Diggity and Goliath the baby camel), this is a challenging, uplifting, sometimes troubling film about self-discovery and self-determination. Curran resists any temptation to make Davidson any kind of victim, nor turn Rick or Eddie the Aboriginal elder (played by a joyous Roly Mintuma) into a caricatures. Tracks is considerably stronger and more rewarding for all these choices.

Such a journey is now impossible in a world of digital connectivity. Putting all distractions aside is a decision few would be willing to take, even fewer would be able to achieve. Yet Davidson's inspiration and Curran's staggeringly beautiful film certainly makes you want to try. Small wonder that The Guardian placed Tracks in their Top 10 list of films likely to give you itchy feet.


Previewed at Paramount Theatrette, Sydney, on 13 February 2014



Mia Wasikowska
Adam Driver
Roly Mintuma

John Curran

Marion Nelson



113 minutes

March 6, 2014
Tracks (2013) on IMDb
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