DIR: John Curran • WRI: Marion Nelson • PRO: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman • DOP: Mandy Walker • DES: Melinda Doring • Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Emma Booth, Jessica Tovey, Melanie Zanetti
Since taking on the title role in Tim Burton’s long-awaited adaptation of Alice In Wonderland four years ago, Australian starlet Mia Wasikowska has seen her stock rising considerably with each passing performance. A noted ballet dancer in her youth, the Canberra native had previously featured alongside Gabriel Byrne in the critically acclaimed HBO series In Treatment, and could also be seen opposite Daniel Craig and future co-star Jamie Bell in Edward Zwick’s Defiance.
It was the coveted role of Alice Kingsleigh that truly put her on the Hollywood map, however, and although Burton’s CG-heavy re-telling of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel wasn’t necessarily the ideal scenario for her to display her acting chops, subsequent parts in The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre, Lawless and Stoker have shown that she can hold her own in A-list company.
She was also seen recently in the Jesse Eisenberg vehicle The Double, but in bringing Robyn Davidson’s award-winning book, Tracks, to the big screen, American filmmaker John Curran has opted to give Wasikowska centre stage. Girls star Adam Driver (whose silver screen credits include Lincoln, Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis) does offer dependable support, but for much of the film’s running time, the 24-year-old is sharing the screen with four camels and her faithful dog.
Curran’s fifth feature film depicts a remarkable nine-month period in Davidson’s life, when she embarked on a 1,700 mile journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean across the vast terrain of the Australian deserts. Having worked with camels for two years in Australia’s Northern Territory, Davidson finally began her arduous journey in 1977, with all her trials and tribulations captured by Driver’s inquisitive photographer Rick Smolan.
Davidson was originally reluctant to chronicle her adventures, but after recognising the sponsorship benefits that are available, she eventually decides to write an article for the famed National Geographic Magazine. Tracks was later spawned from this immensely popular piece, and was given the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980.
The importance that was attached to Davidson’s story inevitably attracted interest from the film industry, and in the years that followed the book’s release, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman (Wasikowska’s Stoker colleague) were linked to the lead role. Indeed, development on a potential movie adaptation started before Wasikowska was born, but for a variety of reasons, it has taken more than three decades for its arrival into multiplexes.
While the passing of time has perhaps made it difficult for the film to have the same relevance to a modern-day audience, the response at a variety of film festivals (including the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival) has made it a worthwhile venture.
In a physically demanding role, Wasikowska is in terrific form, and perfectly embodies the spirit that helped to make Davidson an enduring figure in her native country. She experiences an array of emotions during her expedition, but while there are times that she considers bringing her trek to an abrupt halt, she is ultimately determined to achieve her goal.
Whereas films of this nature normally focus on a singular journey, it is actually the people that Davidson encounters en route to her final destination that give us a true glimpse into the heart of the story. The inhabitants of Australia’s outback certainly have an impact on her journey, and force her to emerge even further from her comfort zone.
The most significant relationship of the film is undoubtedly the one between Davidson and Smolan, which is initially quite distant (Davidson views Smolan as both a nuisance and a distraction), but later becomes much more intimate. It takes a while for Davidson to fully realise how important Smolan is to her voyage of discovery, but the arrival of a more intrusive media presence shows us how sincere his motives are.
As with any film that aims to capture the Australian landscape (and it is a scenery that has been featured in a whole host of genres), Tracks has a very strong aesthetic, and in the capable hands of cinematographer Mandy Walker, it is beautifully realised.
The career of Curran as a film director has been erratic up to this point, and while he was lauded for his 2006 version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, he was accused of self-indulgence in his sophomore feature, We Don’t Live Here Anymore. His most recent film was 2010’s Stone, which was a major box-office disappointment despite the presence of Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, and he will hope that Tracks will have a bigger reach in his home nation when it enjoys a general release in late May.
He has certainly done everything in his power to make the story accessible, and though some may feel that it falls into repetition at times, and allows its plot to meander, there is more than enough to keep cinemagoers onside. An autumn release may well have given it more sleeper potential, but it will pass through cinemas before the congested summer schedule, which can only benefit the film’s prospects in the long run.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Tracks is released on 25th April 2014