“Tracks has been a long time coming,” begins Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. “Ever since Robyn Davidson wrote her 1979 memoir of her 1700-mile, eight-month trek across the Australian outback from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, and the book became an award-winning best-seller around the world…, [m]ultiple attempts to mount an adaptation have been made—Julia Roberts was attached to a version for much of the 1990s—but it finally took the producers of The King’s Speech and the oft-undervalued New York-born, Australian-based director John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore, The Painted Veil) to get it made, with the film finally premiering at the Venice Film Festival today. And for many, it’ll have been worth the wait: it’s a very handsome film with a terrific central performance, even if it’s not quite an unqualified triumph.”
“Good things come to those who wait,” writes In Contention‘s Guy Lodge, “and the (very) good thing in this case is Mia Wasikowska, the tranquil-faced Australian actress who, at 23, is even younger than Davidson was when she embarked on her impossibly possible journey. Pale and birch-like, possessed of an unusual beauty that doesn’t come separate from an innate intelligence, she has successfully built her career so far on a kind of cool but relatably reticent quality: through starring roles in the likes of Jane Eyre and Stoker, she’s become a go-to girl for characters who are nobody’s go-to girls. As such, she’s ideal for the role of Robyn, a woman who doesn’t mean to be antisocial, but has strictly rationed practical use for the company—social, professional or even sexual—of others.”
“Curran has proven himself something of a specialist in the behavioral habits of prickly and unpredictable individuals,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “In this he makes an ideal fit for Davidson’s literary touchstone… Robyn is so opposed to outside meddling that she only grudgingly accepts the occasional company of American photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), who drives out to meet her at several points for pictures—a condition of her contract with National Geographic magazine, which has agreed to fully finance her trip. In a role significantly expanded upon from the book, Driver’s winning performance as this enthusiastic, awkwardly ingratiating tag-along emerges as one of the film’s chief pleasures…. Lensed at the beginning of the hot season in the deserts of South Australia and the Northern Territory, Tracks further benefits from d.p. Mandy Walker’s magnificently composed and textured widescreen images… Dusty oranges and rusty reds dominate a palette heavily influenced by Smolan’s photographs (singled out in the credits), as well as such atmospheric classics of ’70s outback cinema as Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright.”
“While Curran directs with a languid, glossy elegance, there is a frustrating coyness to his investigation of what’s really driving Robyn Davidson,” finds the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. Tracks “has gone walkabout without a compass, without much of a purpose besides taking the view. The tale wanders lazily in endless, pretty circles.”
Tracks is competing in Venice, part of the Show at Telluride, and a Special Presentation in Toronto.
Updates: “The star of Tracks is the Australian outback itself,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “[T]his is a simple and beautiful journey undertaken purely for its own sake, and approached in that spirit, Tracks will lead you to a place of quiet wonder.”
“Alternately haunting, inspiring and dreamily meditative, this is a visually majestic film of transfixing moods and textures,” agrees the Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney.
At Thompson on Hollywood, Matt Mueller writes that Wasikowska’s performance is “a model of restraint just like Curran’s film, which eschews any showy spiritual awakenings or climactic crescendos—a far cry from the ramped-up version apparently planned for Julia Roberts (according to Davidson herself, that ‘gobsmackingly awful’ script contained a dreaming initiation ceremony in which Aborigines carried Robyn naked around a fire). One imagines the author will concur that Curran, Wasikowska and the rest of Tracks‘ creative army have done her story proud with their modest but compelling approach.”
A dissenting opinion comes from Little White Lies‘ David Jenkins: “What director John Curran offers up in Tracks is a gap-year hash of every walking-through-nature movie ever, with a bunch of hokey episodic sub-plots coalescing to make the film as a whole feel like one giant montage sequence. Some have compared it to Nic Roeg’s Walkabout, and while there is the odd direct homage (an enlightening nudie swimming sequence) this is not worthy of touching the hem of that particular psychedelic garment…. Come back Eat Pray Love. All is forgiven!”
Updates, 9/1: “The film may be brave in spotlighting such an inherently unlikable character,” grants Ashley Clark at the House Next Door, “but it fails to provide a truly compelling reason as to why we should be interested in Davidson’s foolhardy quest; woozily shot flashbacks reveal a family bereavement, but the film treats her journey like a selfish, particularly bloody-minded ‘gap year’—or, for the Americans reading this, a post-high school sabbatical. It’s made even less clear why everyone who the standoffish Davidson meets on her journey is prepared to bend over backward to help her—including, most egregiously, an Aboriginal man, Eddie (Roly Mintuma), who’s given an unmistakable sprinkling of magical-negro dust. Throughout there persists the nagging suspicion that the real-life Davidson would have been far flintier and eccentric than the film ever allows her to be, or is interested in finding out.”
Jon Frosch for the Atlantic: “With his floppy hair, gangly gait, over-ripe features and thick, sleepy voice, Driver looks like a character actor (which he certainly can be, as in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and the upcoming Coen brothers gem Inside Llewyn Davis), and his line delivery, at once slacker-ish and neurotic, makes him sound like one, too. But he has the charisma of a leading man, and his prickly chemistry with Wasikowska is by far the best thing in the movie.”
More (in French) from Jean-Michel Frodon.
Update, 9/2: The Weinstein Company’s acquired U.S. rights, reports Anne Thompson.
Update, 9/3: “While Tracks certainly does justice to the splendor of the surroundings, it never manages to justify the expansion of the material into a feature,” argues Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn.
Updates, 9/8: “Wasikowska, usually a most intelligent and watchable young actress, does not flesh out the role beyond a certain blond mulishness,” finds Mary Corliss, writing for Time.
William Goss at Film.com: “Compared to recent survival stories like the refreshingly stripped-down All is Lost or the proudly spectacular Gravity, Tracks seems sturdy at best, a movie that, like the very event it chronicles, only seems to have been accomplished because it could be. The result is alternately beautiful and dull, which arguably makes it a faithful encapsulation of the adventure itself.”
Update, 9/11: “Curran’s willingness to let the images carry the story marks a shrewd change of tactics after the intermittently impressive but over-determined Stone and The Painted Veil,” writes Tom Charity in Cinema Scope. “For long periods the movie has no verbal exchanges except Robyn’s muttered self-recriminations after she loses her compass, or her exhortations to the sometimes-recalcitrant camels. Wasikowska is inspired casting, evincing intelligence and naïveté, determination and desperation, resourcefulness and vulnerability.”
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