Mini-Review: Mia Wasikowska Crosses the Australian Desert in John Curran’s Tracks (2013)

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*Cruel Spoilers (Because Life is Cruel)*

Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) is living the dream, if your dream happens to be walking 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) around the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. Nobody’s sure why she’d embark on such a crazy journey, but everyone’s fascinated by her story. One annoyingly nice National Geographic journalist (Adam Driver) in particular. After days of loneliness in the desert, because she clearly doesn’t like humans Robyn discovers that she is lonely and that she doesn’t really like people. 

Tracks was directed by John Curran and is based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir by the same name. When I first heard of this film I was very intrigued by the concept and hoped for something with very little dialogue and not much of a story. Of course there was more dialogue and plot than I expected, but that’s not really what I found disappointing about Tracks. The Robyn Davidson portrayed in this film is clearly a misanthropic, hermit figure, that doesn’t like human contact very much. Throughout the film she seems to be fighting some personal demons.

It’s never really clear what’s going on inside her mind and she’s not particularly likable. Now, while I like the concept of having an unlikable lead it’s easier to watch a film featuring a character I can sympathize and care for. While I instinctively feel that I understand Robyn’s motivation to leave the world behind and completely isolate herself and get back in touch with nature and herself, I never get the feeling that the journey affects her or “changes” her. Maybe that’s the point the filmmaker was trying to make, but I wonder if it’s intentional or not.

While I wasn’t too thrilled with the script or the storytelling, there’s still a lot to enjoy in Tracks. Cinematographer Mandy Walker creates some very beautiful and haunting images of Mia walking in the desert with her camel friends. Costume designer Marriott Kerr nails the 70s look with some cool retro fashion that actually matches the real Robyn Davidson’s wardrobe. Finally, makeup artist Megan Tiltman does a bang up job of making Ms. Wasikowska look like a rugged nomad, and yet of course she’s still gorgeous.

Speaking of Mia, she’s absolutely fantastic, as always, but so is Adam Driver. Another thing that bothered me however was how oscar-baity the film felt. I am not familiar with Robyn Davidson’s real story, but certain elements seemed forced and added for dramatic purposes, as if they thought that telling the story straight wasn’t compelling enough. I especially didn’t like how they handled the death of her dog. Right before he dies, they remember to show us how much she loved him. I mean come on. There were other bits here and there, but I hate nitpicking.

All in all, a sub-par film. While the story is certainly fascinating the execution here is not that impressive. Biopics are tough to adapt, because you have to stay true to the story, but ideally you also bring in your own vision and personal artistic approach. In this case I don’t feel like the filmmakers added much of his own flavor or personality to the story, beyond some nice stylistic touches and having hired a great actress. I am not familiar with the director’s work, but I suspect that the problem is more with Marion Nelson and the fact that this is her first screenplay.

6.5 out of 10

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