We’ve all had those moments, whether plugging away at work or spending time at home, where you get an inexplicable urge to leave. To just go. Nowhere specific, just out and away. But it’s rare that we take action when the wanderlust strikes. Maybe you go for a walk around the block or go grab a coffee. But Robyn Davidson truly answered this call. The real-life subject of Tracks, Davidson made the decision to head out on an unbelievable – some would say suicidal – journey across one of the harshest terrains imaginable, the Australian outback. It’s a trek that is as difficult to accomplish as it is enjoyable to watch.
We are first introduced to Robyn (Mia Wasikowska) when she arrives in Alice Springs, a small desert town and the launching point of her cross-country journey. Through an ongoing series of flashbacks it is revealed that Robyn’s father was himself an explorer, instilling in her the wisdom that life is more about the journey than the destination. Equipped with a meagre amount of supplies, and accompanied by her dog Diggity, Robyn begins to flesh out the details of her trip. If there’s one thing this area of Australia has in spades it’s camels, and Robyn, knowing full well that she’ll need a few in order to carry her supplies across the desert, works at two local camel farms to earn herself four of the beasts.
But she also needs money. Enter Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a fast talking American photographer on assignment for Time magazine. The two get off to a rocky start, with Robyn being put off by his assertive personality. But Rick won’t give up that easy, and after hearing of Robyn’s plan and her lack of funding, he encourages her to contact National Geographic to see if they’ll sponsor her trip. Lucky for her, they find the proposal intriguing and agree to back her financially. But there’s a catch. The magazine insists that a photographer accompany her to document the trip. Much to her dismay, that photographer is Rick.
As you might expect, the journey has its fair share of perilous moments. Robyn has to overcome encounters with wild camels, invasive tourists, and the unforgiving elements along her 2700km route to the Indian Ocean. But it’s her interactions with the indigenous Australians that are the most intriguing. Robyn’s journey sends her through areas of the outback that are sacred to the aboriginals. Her trip almost comes to a halt as women are unable to visit these sites without an accompanying elder, but one local named Mr. Eddie agrees to travel with her.
Tracks was adapted from Davidson’s memoir of her 1975 adventure, and director John Curran does an admirable job remaining faithful to the real-life events. The creative freedoms he and screenwriter Marion Nelson take don’t undermine the tale at all, but help make it a more compelling story for the big screen. Equally captivating is Wasikowska’s portrayal of the then 25 year old adventurer. The young actress is called upon to carry the bulk of the film on her own and succeeds brilliantly. Wasikowska hasn’t had too many leading roles to date, but her talent is being noticed by acclaimed directors like Jim Jarmusch and David Cronenberg, both of whom cast her in their most recent projects. Driver should also be commended for his performance as Smolan. He continues to make lasting impressions in smaller, supporting roles. It also helps that both actors are splitting images of the subjects they play. The strong story and performances are supplemented by the beautiful visuals created by director of photography Mandy Walker.
If you often get the urge to travel, Tracks will make you want to run home and buy the first plane ticket to anywhere. A good movie should allow you to escape for a couple of hours, all without leaving your comfy seat. If you can’t afford the $1000 flight to Australia, or burn easily, then this is your next best option.
Reviewed by Kyle Miller.
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