“Tracks” is an incredible journey that unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere.
Starring Mia Wasikowska (“Jane Eyre”, “Stoker”) and Adam Driver (HBO’s “Girls”, “Frances Ha”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”), and directed by John Curran (“The Painted Veil”, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”) “Tracks” is based on the inspirational true story of 27 year old Robyn Davidson’s nine month solo trek across Australia accompanied only by her loyal dog and four camels.
Adapted from the bestselling book, the film begins with Robyn’s determination already set as she travels to Alice Springs to learn how to tame and acquire camels, work around the inherent misogyny in 1970s outback Australia to earn some respect for her mission, and adapt to life on her own with only her animal family to keep her company. From what we can gather, the latter is her main motivation for the incredible trip, as she keeps reinforcing she ‘just wants to be by herself’.
Once sponsorship of the journey is approved by National Geographic on the condition their photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), checks in with her every month for a photo essay, she is off, and some incredible cinematography from Mandy Walker of no-man’s-land Australia follows.
Mia Wasikowska brings a naturalness and stubbornness to the role that does credit to the source material, and she is all charm and confidence under the sun. That her character is such an enigma does not quite help the performance though, as once she sets on her trek with her goal of acquiring camels successful, her only other goal left is to make it to the other side, and since we know she wrote a book about it, it kind of takes any tension out of the film.
Along the way she both resents Smolan’s occasional presence, and turns to him for relief, and meets a charismatic Aboriginal elder Mr Eddie (Roly Mintuna), re-lives some clunky backstory through flashbacks, but apart from a sad turn for one of her animal family, the film is largely sweeping scenery, a searing score, and no third act to really tie it all together.
By all accounts the book is filled with Robyn’s distinct voice, practical advice about traveling with camels, and self-deprecating humour, but unfortunately this does not seem to translate on screen. Without the restriction of telling the story on paper, perhaps a little too much emphasis was placed on the visuals and not the feelings involved in such a journey. We are a little too detached from what Robyn is going through, even at a particularly sad point in the film.
With incredible performances from both Wasikowska and Driver, along with beautiful visuals, this is by no means one to skip, but it may not stay with you the way the book, which has never been out of print, managed to.