Some brilliant performances and stunning cinematography more than make up for the flaws in this Australian desert trek.
Lee Zachariah
Published on April 07, 2014


In 1977, Robyn Davidson decided she would walk west from Alice Springs until she hit the Indian Ocean, taking with her only her beloved dog and four camels. She was determined to do this alone, but, finding herself in need of money, was forced to allow National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan to document her journey. Davidson was told the trek would be suicide, but, undeterred, she set out anyway on her perilous, eventful journey.

Filmmakers have been trying to adapt Tracks since the early 1980s, with even Julia Roberts attached in 1993. This is the sixth (and, clearly, the only successful) attempt to bring Davidson's story to the screen, and one has to wonder: what's with all the fuss? Davidson's story is certainly remarkable in terms of human achievement, but given our cinema is notoriously awash with characters undertaking dangerous walks across the unforgiving Australian landscape, do we really need one more?

'Need' is probably too strong a word. It's made. It's here. And all told, it's pretty good. Mia Wasikowska is especially impressive as Davidson, imbuing her with a determination required to sell the character. She delivers lines with a certain brand of confidence so rare in Australian acting. Lines of dialogue that would clearly clang noisily to the ground when delivered by others float effortlessly from Wasikowska's mouth. It's pretty clear why she's enjoyed such international success.

Adam Driver, best known from Lena Dunham's Girls, is equally superb as Smolan. Driver is a compelling presence, and though his character is an irritant to Davidson, he is a welcome presence to us whenever he appears.

The film's biggest problem is the lack of motivation. Davidson may have felt a compulsion apropos of nothing, but the rules of film are different. If we're to invest in this journey, feel sympathy for our heroine, we need to feel some portion of what she feels. We need to care. And "I felt like it" doesn't quite get us there. This, naturally, almost undermines the entire movie. It's difficult to relate to someone doing something seemingly pointless the hard way, for the sake of doing it the hard way. I suspect Davidson's memoir does a better job selling us on this, but the audience should not be expected to read the book first.

That said, it's a testament to the film that it can survive this misstep so well. John Curran's direction is effective and tangible, and Marion Nelson's screenplay depicts Davidson's isolation particularly well. Mandy Walker's superb cinematography makes the landscape seem terrifying and seductive all at once.

Title cards at the end inform us what happened next, and give the proceedings an annoying retroactive feeling of unearned worthiness, souring this reviewer at the worst possible moment. Despite this, Tracks is an engaging, beautiful film that overcomes its flaws impressively.


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