Tracks review

Tracks is based on the remarkable true story of Robyn Davidson, a woman who travelled 1700 miles across Australia with four camels and a dog. Thankfully, the film is crammed with a number of interesting themes and isn’t just another piece of vapid cultural tourism.

We first see Robyn (Mia Wasikowska) arriving in Alice Springs with her dog, Diggity, and looking for work. She takes a job at a camel farm and learns how to train and tend to the animals, while rejecting the more harsh methods that she’s shown.

Then, thanks in part to the interest of National Geographic, Robyn acquires four camels and sets off on a solo journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean.

It’s immediately clear from Robyn’s treatment of her friends and relatives that she likes solitude and the company of animals more than spending her time with other people. We also quickly understand that her journey is something Robyn feels she needs to do. It isn’t just a whim, or an attempt to make a grand statement.

But what makes Tracks such a fascinating film is how it is, in fact, loaded with grand statements, it’s just that they’re just concealed in quiet and seemingly innocuous asides.

The fact that Robyn, a young woman alone and unaided, set off on this journey in 1977 certainly struck a blow against prevailing attitudes regarding what women could and couldn’t do. Attitudes, of course, that still sadly persist. The film portrays her regular meetings with the National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) in ways that fly in the face of a Hollywood movie’s usual, stereotyped gender roles. Theirs is a refreshingly nuanced relationship and its portrayal has real bite.

Curran and writer Marion Nelson use Robyn’s interactions with the Aboriginal people she encounters to speak to deeper ideas regarding ‘the other.’ This is in a country that has, at times, had a hard time addressing on screen the treatment of Aboriginals and their place in modern culture. A particularly amusing but poignant moment, for instance, sees Eddy (Rolley Mintuma), an Aboriginal elder who helps guide Robyn for part of her journey, play the ‘crazed native’ in order to scare off the sightseers eager to take pictures of the “camel lady”.

Mia Wasikowska is superb and fantastically cast as Robyn, and conveys both the fierceness and fragility of the character with skill. Driver is also excellent, perhaps unsurprisingly in light of his recent run of outstanding work. And whole the role of Rick might seem to have been somewhat sidelined, Driver and Mintuma both do a great job of supporting Wasikowska’s lead performance.

Cinematographer Mandy Walker does a good job of framing the tiny figure of Mia Wasikowska in the expansive, stunning scenery of Australia, communicating very well just how small and fragile she would appear. But Robyn is filled with strength, and her story rich in big, wide reaching ideas.

Tracks will be released in UK cinemas on the 25th of April and in the US on the 23rd of May.