In 1977 a woman named Robyn Davidson decided to trek more than 6,000 miles across the Australian desert. A massive undertaking to be sure, and she brought along just four camels and a dog as company. Her ensuing adventure was turned into a magazine article and eventually a bestselling memoir, and now director John Curran has put the story on film, starring Mia Wasikowska in the lead role.
It's a good movie, accurately and deliberately tracing the steps Robyn took as she set out on this journey, and Wasikowska continues her streak of playing understated, cold, internal characters, as Robyn was not exactly a people person (she seems to vastly prefer the company of animals) and seems to want more than anything to get away from the people and life that surrounds her as she goes on this epic voyage. The movie is partly a character study, but doesn't dwell very deeply on Robyn's internal stresses and mostly sticks to the story as written. It's a very straightforward narrative (Robyn decides she wants to go, works for the money, saddles up the camels and takes off) and to be honest, the actual journey itself seemed to be mostly uneventful. When Robyn treks into the desert alone she is always on the verge of heading into territory rumored to be dangerous, but she always makes it through seemingly without incident. There's a risk here of treading on dull ground, as you probably read that sentence and thought, well what's the point, then? Since the movie isn't meditative enough to ever qualify as a deep, penetrating character study of Robyn's psyche as she evolved over this trip (she doesn't really seem to do much evolving), then the question becomes, is the trip entertaining enough on its own to sustain a whole film about it? I'd say yes, but just barely.
The Australian desert landscapes are gorgeous, and the scope of the trip is intimidating enough to keep you in a state of prolonged suspense, even though you know she does eventually make it to the finish line. And crucially, there is another character in the movie that we spend a significant amount of time with, a photographer for National Geographic (who sponsored Robyn's trip) played by Adam Driver, who meets up with Robyn once a month to take pictures to be published with the eventual article. Driver has a natural charismatic and unique aura that ultimately wears down Robyn's defenses, and we look forward to seeing him as he makes his periodic appearances throughout the film. Robyn herself is so prickly and cold that she might be too unpleasant to spend the entire film with if it wasn't for his occasional goofy and inviting presence. Wasikowska has so far proven to be an actress with interesting taste, although I'm not quite sure if she's got the chops to be a chameleon in the vein of Meryl Streep or Jessica Chastain. She specializes in subtlety and understatement, but in the roles she's taken on so far, she's tended to strike the same note in every one of them- which has worked for the individual films, but with this one riding almost entirely on her performance, there's an element of flatness that is conveyed at times.
Still, Tracks is good movie, and despite its relative uneventfulness, the fact of a twentysomething woman crossing a mass desert alone is a monumental achievement that begs admiration from anyone who hears about it. Not every person can or would want to do such a thing, and as a testament of personal strength, it stands as an existential victory for Robyn, both as a woman and a damaged individual struggling to overcome grievances in her past (which is only touched on in the movie, but nonetheless serves as a primary factor for those looking to suss out her motivations). It's a trip worth taking.
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