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It's 1922; somewhere in Australia. When a Native Australian man is accused of murdering a white woman, three white men (The Fanatic, The Follower and The Veteran) are given the mission of capturing him with the help of an experienced Native Australian (The Tracker). So they start their quest in the outback, not knowing that their inner wrestles against and for racism will be more dangerous that the actual hunting for the accused. Written by
It gets off to a slow start. On horseback in the Australian desert, three white men representing officialdom follow close behind an aboriginal man on foot, "tracking" another aborigine wanted for killing a white woman. There's no character development, no explanations, no music ... just four men plodding along in silence.
But the plot gradually picks up as the four men encounter frustrations and problems along the way. This film is unusual in that, from start to finish, it takes place entirely outdoors. The stunning cinematography not only captures the stark beauty of a rugged and unforgiving land, but also creates some memorable cinematic art, most notably the profile of a man, whose corpse dangles in the wind against the background of a bright yellow sun.
For a film about "tracking", the script has little to say about real life tracking skills. At one point the tracker stoops down to notice one small rock that has apparently been moved. The tracker then uses this stone to conclude that the stalked man has recently been here. But how does the tracker know the rock's disturbance was the result of the wanted man, rather than some passing wild animal, or a local aborigine? The tracker doesn't explain, and his three white boss men don't ask.
But the film is not really about "tracking". It's about politics and philosophy. The lead white man is repulsive in his violence and racism. He whips and chains the tracker, and verbally abuses him. Yet, to accomplish his mission, the boss man needs the tracker. The film's theme thus centers on how imperialistic, militant whites overpower natives of a country to get what the whites want, with the help of guns, of course. It's a frequent theme throughout human history, and in its application to American history it is known as "manifest destiny".
Reinforcing this theme is the film's haunting soundtrack. I especially liked the visceral "All Men Choose The Path They Walk". The music adds emotional and philosophic depth to the story, as do aboriginal drawings, or sketches, that figuratively show what is happening, when the film's plot turns violent. The film's casting and acting are fine. David Gulpilil is himself an aborigine, and does a good job as the tracker.
This is an unusual film in that there is not one single scene that takes place indoors. It has a political theme that runs deep, enhanced by haunting music. Although "The Tracker" gets off to a slow start, it build tension en route to a powerful ending. It's a film that would appeal to viewers looking for something a little different, as well as those interested in cultural history or outdoor adventure.
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