Tracks (2014)

Posted by Joel Copling on October 2, 2014

In 1977, Robyn Davidson embarked on a trip clear across the Australian desert. It wasn't to achieve fame, though the journey attracted the usual, pestilential paparazzi and an article in the National Geographic. It wasn't precisely due to loneliness, from which, after all, she suffered before the end of the trip. It was simply because, in her exact and succinct phrasing, "Why not." It's an odd justification (or lack thereof) for a dangerous journey, but for her it seems a spiritual one. She "just want[s] to be alone," and that means getting away in the form of a two-thousand-mile trek in the wilderness of her home continent.

Captured with spare beauty by director John Curran and on-top-of-her-game cinematographer Mandy Walker, "Tracks" is the filmic account of Robyn Davidson's journey (told through her book of the same, which has been adapted by Marion Nelson) through this wilderness. Thin on plot and anchored by a lead performance from Mia Wasikwowska that well humanizes Davidson's central, impulsive decision, this is less a survival drama than a slice-of-life that happens to feature parched skin, long stretches involving some impossibly adorable camels, and close-ups on a woman's reflective, thoughtful face as she occasionally flashes back to a mother who took her own life years before. Not all the pieces in "Tracks" come together satisfyingly, but there is a solid study here of motivation with an appreciable hint of feminist backbone.

Those camels are part of Robyn's travelling party, with names like Dookie, Bub, and Goliath; she also brings along her dog, Diggity, and as we all should know, some animals are occupational hazards on a trip like this. Her trip is sponsored and funded by the efforts of the National Geographic magazine, a reporter from which named Rick (Adam Driver) follows her progress and takes pictures (toward which she grows more and more irritated); he's a gnat she feels she can't rid of quickly enough, but he's also just about the only form of connection she makes on this trip (An elderly man played by Roly Mintuma accompanies her through sacred land through which no woman can travel, and his charm clearly lies in his inability to speak more than a few words of English).

The illusory visits from Rick are sweet-natured, and Driver impresses with his mixture of sarcasm and something a little less cheerful. Mintuma is a comedic delight as the chaperon, Mr. Eddy, and every shot of the camels showcases a sweet-natured animal eager to please the human with which they travel (Their grunts are more or less statements in themselves, and the result is, without fail, an enormous smile). An oasis in the form of an elderly couple who allow Robyn houseroom somewhere around the middle of her trip (which rounds down from intention to be 1,700 miles in total) is a sweet pause. But the real story is this woman's determination to see her ambitious whim through, and "Tracks" meanders through it with a lovely sort of grace.

Film Information

Mia Wasikowska (Robyn), Adam Driver (Rick), Rainer Bock (Kurt), Roly Mintuma (Mr. Eddy), John Flaus (Sallay), Robert Coleby (Pop), Jessica Tovey (Jenny), Emma Booth (Marg), Lily Pearl (Young Robyn).

Directed by John Curran and written by Marion Nelson, based on the book by Robyn Davidson.

Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, partial nudity, disturbing images, brief language).

112 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 19, 2014.