The slow-burning, atmosphere-reliant Tracks, directed by John Curran, lives and breathes by the compelling nature of its lead. Luckily for the film and audiences alike, Mia Wasikowska is compelling in spades.
Based on a true life story, the movie follows Robyn (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who leaves her city lifestyle to embark on a solo trek through nearly 2000 miles of the endless Australian desert. Accompanied by her dog, four camels and very little survival training, she sets forth on her own personal adventure. Along the way she encounters National Geographic photographer Rick (Adam Driver) as well as other kindly faces that help her on her journey. Deeply personal and seeking some sort of spiritual and physical peace, Robyn is a fascinating character because she’s so utterly normal.
The film is directed with a sleek, high production quality by Curran, and the Weinstein Company stamp is firmly in place by the glitzy, high definition look, even when Robyn is roughing it. The script is fairly one-note, acting more as a foundation for the direction and acting by Wasikowska and co. to work off of. It’s not so much the words that she’s saying, but how she emotes with her face and body language.
Wasikowska is a bit of an enigma as an actress. She’s conventionally pretty but also refreshingly ordinary; she’s quiet but not forlorn, spirited but never quirky or rambunctious. She’s normal but still seems larger than life as she and her dog walk across the barren and unforgiving desert. It’s her who truly captivates my interest for the entirety of the film, which easily could have been trimmed and still managed to tell a complete and sweet tale of a woman becoming one with herself.
The film isn’t for everyone. It’s a very slow burn and the action is sparse, with much of the film reliant on voice overs by Wasikowska or moments of silence between her and her natural surroundings. The only moments of real dialogue are at the start of any time she has a fellow companion, who, more often than not, is Adam Driver as Rick. As much as I enjoy Driver and can’t wait to see his progressive rise to fame, I can’t help but feel he was misused here, as we can’t ever tell if we’re supposed to like him or not.
Tracks, for the most part, is about the little things, which is why it’s so satisfying to see them get the little details right. Robyn isn’t always looking picture perfect – she’s sweaty; she hasn’t had the time to groom or brush her hair; she looks like the real deal. Her lips are chapped, her skin is sunburnt, her clothes are dirty – she’s believable. Robyn is an animal lover whose sole intention for this trip was to gain a sense of privacy that real life has never afforded her.
The faults lie in the flashbacks, like most other movies that deliver all of their character exposition through that tool. It’s choppy and tries to adopt a new filmmaking style that differentiates itself from the present tense, and in the end only ends up looking amateurish. Robyn was interesting enough without a backstory – why add unnecessary plot devices that talk down to audiences rather than trusting in their intellect?
I always find myself drawn to films that showcase people performing acts so unimaginable to me that I simultaneously wish I could follow in their footsteps but also realize that I would die trying. So much of the appeal of film is the way it allows escapism. Escapism in the big or small sense, it doesn’t really matter, as long as we some way, somehow feel like we’ve taken the journey too. To me, Robyn did the impossible and the film, in part, captured the essence of an ordinary person accomplishing something extraordinary.
Isn’t that something we all wish for at some point?
Tracks hits theaters this Friday, September 19th.