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Into a painted landscape come four men.
Three policemen on horseback, and a native tracker leading them on
They are chasing another native, accused of murder, who is occasionally
glimpsed in the distance.
As they trek further into the wilderness, the fugitive remains elusive,
the brutal aggression of the expedition leader turns the mission
Brilliantly written and directed by Rolf de Heer, this is a great film. Performances by the two main protagonists, David Gulpilil as the Tracker, and Gary Sweet as the Fanatic, are excellent. And the stark beauty of the Australian outback has never been captured so lovingly on film.
I left this brilliant film being excited and proud to be an aspiring
Australian film-maker. What a film experience. Surely this is one of the
great Australian films, certainly of this current year and without doubt
a long time.
I say this film made me feel proud but really, as I was sitting after the
film enjoying the warm sunshine and the beauty of the Sydney Opera House
the Sydney Harbour, I was quite ashamed and saddened to be an Australian.
The film deals with a very dark and still repressed area of Australian
history that goes to the very heart of what it means to be an Australian,
what out heritage is and what our role is in relation to this
Rather than give a synopsis (they are always so boring) of how the film
deals with these issues, I would just simply implore everyone everywhere
(not just Australians) to see this film. I really believe the film has
importance and resonance for all people, apart from its issues and meaning
think the film is simply film-making of the highest calibre. Bold,
subtle at times as well as appropriately disturbing and unsettling when it
needs to be. Rolf De Heer has surely made his best film, a film to make you
stand up and take notice of his ability. Visually beautiful (what an
country we have) and the use of Aboriginal singer Archie Roach's haunting
songs is inspired and integral to the film's impact.
I have to make special mention of the actors. Basically the film is a
four-hander with Grant Page, Gary Sweet, Damon Gameau and David Gulpill
giving outstanding performances. Particularly Sweet, giving authority and
complexity to a unlikeable role that Australians would be not used to
after his television appearances. Can I also reserve a particular rave for
Damon Gameau who plays the role of the young follower. Gameau, just out of
drama school, is a real find. The Australian press have not given him the
praise that he deserves and acknowledged the exceptional way he manages to
convincingly capture the complicated shifts in the arc of his character's
journey. For me at the end of the film, Gulpill and Gameau together
deliver the film's final moments with such sensitivity and beautiful
chemistry that you can't help but be incredibly moved.
Finally I want to say that above all, at the centre of the story, David Gulpill is just extraordinary (one interviewer described him as our biggest Aboriginal movie star, certainly his performance has to be the highlight of his long and significant career.)You feel everything this film has to say, every part of its journey in his performance. You feel the injustice, the horror, the abuse, the loss of culture and identity. Conclusively, you feel for real that being an Australian means acknowledging that our country, as we now know it, was founded on the invasion and near-obliteration of a pre-existing people and their culture.
In 2002, Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence attacked the Australian
government's policy of forcibly removing mixed race Aborigines from
their families, sending them to government camps to be sold as
servants, converted to Christianity, and eventually assimilated into
white society. Just released on DVD and set six years earlier in 1922,
Australian Indie director Rolf de Heer's The Tracker is a parable that
also explores racism in Australia but on an even darker level,
reflecting, according to de Heer, the practices and attitudes of that
era towards the Aboriginal people. As three white men and an Aboriginal
tracker set out on horseback to search for a black fugitive (Noel
Wilton) accused of killing a white woman, the search through the
stunning landscape of the Flinders Ranges becomes an exercise in
savagery that raises questions about genocide.
The travelers in the search party are nameless and referred to only as The Fanatic (Gary Sweet), The Follower (Damon Gameau), and The Veteran (stuntman Grant Page). They are characters who are both individuals and archetypes who seem to represent racial discrimination and its passive acceptance. The Fanatic is the pompous police officer who is shown as repulsively intolerant of blacks and an individual that will not hesitate to kill. The Follower is his young and innocent assistant who is startled by The Fanatic's relentless racism yet too inexperienced to make a move. The Veteran is an old timer who will not challenge authority.
In The Tracker, De Heer employs two effective and original touches. One is the use of ten original songs composed by Graham Tardif, with lyrics by de Heer, and performed by Archie Roach, an Aboriginal singer who sounds like Tom Waits. Like the Neil Young score in Jim Jarmusch's subversive Western, Dead Man, the continual music can be intrusive but it creates a mood of solemnity. In another device, de Heer cuts away from scenes of violence to show still shots of Peter Coad paintings done in a simple primitive style. The raw emotion of Roach's songs and Coad's expressive artwork establish a record of the horror and allow us to relate to the mythic quality of the drama.
The Tracker plays the part of a fool saying to the officer "Yes, Boss. Okay Boss" yet, like Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, he is a knowing fool, a man of humor and irony and an instinctive intelligence about the natural world, its spirits and its sacred places. When The Fanatic tells him to show The Follower the signs he is following, he points to one stone in a field of thousands saying, "Dis stone in the wrong place, belong over here", underneath almost dry, he gone couple of hours." revealing knowledge of the place of every stone. We know that The Tracker, though outwardly subservient, is the one who is really in charge and that the search party would be lost without him. As The Fanatic forces The Follower and The Veteran to participate in murder, the groundwork is laid for revenge and retribution.
The Tracker is a beautiful and powerful film that bears witness to the time when there was no talk of Aboriginal reconciliation and no hope for it. Damon Gameau shows great promise as the young man who has developed that rare quality called conscience and we identify with his strength of character. The highlight performance of the film, however, is that of charismatic native actor David Gulpilul. He portrays a man of simple dignity, not a "noble savage" or a faithful "Jacky Jacky" figure necessary to white dominance of the frontier but simply a man who has a profound sense of the world around him. Through him de Heer allows us to glimpse the possibility of establishing a true multi-racial society where people respect each other as equals.
I watched this wonderful film last night on television after having,
unfortunately, missed it during its house release several years ago.
Even though it would have been far better to see the beautiful
cinematography on the big screen I was still moved and highly impressed
with this historically insightful look under the carpet of our history.
It is an interesting coincidence that I watched The Proposition several days ago and was able to watch The Tracker last night-both films, although separated by roughly fifty years, still circle the same historical period in that they both deal with Australia's adolescence and it is this historical backdrop that binds these films together in my mind.
If a film returns to my thoughts after I have watched it, regardless of the geographical setting or the chronological period, that film is successful by my standards and if you wakeup the next morning replaying scenes of the film then it certainly is a winner-that is exactly what happened this morning. De Heer's script and direction created a haunting movie. The subtlety of the nuances made for a deeply intellectual journey through the tracks of these different people embroiled in activities beyond their understanding. Is this the paradigm of human existence? De Heer is to be congratulated for writing a scrip dealing with historical topics generally bypassed by commercial film makers and then directing that film with such sensitivity and understanding. It is rare to see a film that paints such a critical view of the relationship of the Aboriginal people and the close-mindedness of the Anglo settlers during that first century of contact. The definitive film about this contact has yet to be made and I for one anxiously await its production. We know so little, even if we make a concerted effort to locate the sources, about this early period of racial interaction. In the history of the world has there been such a diametrically antagonistic confrontation between peoples? The accuracy of this contact drama seems to have been lost because of the very nature of the discontinuity between these peoples. De Heer attempted to redress this lack of information and due to the brilliance of his insights, as well as the brilliance of the cast, we the audience are the better for having watched their work.
I stumbled onto this movie during the Palm Springs International Film Festival. When I noticed folks lined up outside the theatre an hour before the movie, I thought I'd join them. What a surprise! The haunting closeups and aerial views of Australia's outback serve to intensify the interactions of the characters. The music can, and does, appear overpowering at times, but along with an ocasionally inserted "painting", helps dramatize aborigine culture, a key to the film's intent. If you're tired of the usual american formulaic movie, but aren't into the hassle of reading subtitles, this may be for you.
As far as Western films go, the Tracker is nothing groundbreaking or
particularly accomplished. I'd compare it to Anthony Mann's Naked Spur,
another beautiful looking wilderness bounty-hunter film with a primary
interest in psychological tension between morally ambiguous characters.
Like Naked Spur, there is a trickster figure, an innocent, a veteran
trailblazer, and a sadistic military figure. There is plenty of
intrigue between characters as new situations arise, but The Tracker
lacks the complexity of the screenplay thanks to the director's
political heavy-handedness. Gary Sweet's character is not convincing or
particularly well developed, as his simplistically evil nature makes
him highly predictable and almost comedic. While I enjoyed the music on
its own merits, I agree with another commenter that it leaves little
room for the viewer to come to his own conclusions about the
On the other hand, there are some great moments, such as the Tracker's improvised trial of the Fanatic, which causes one question how capital punishment becomes perceived as legitimate. The Tracker's adoption of white traditions and religious rites causes us to view him differently than we would otherwise. The circumstances of the Fanatic's dependence upon the Tracker and the Tracker's dependence upon the mercy of the Fanatic create an intrigue that is again reminiscent of the Naked Spur. Aided by the beautiful scenery of the outback, the cinematography is very nice, and the editing is distinctive as the film maintains a slower pace with spacious musical and visual interludes that are sometimes kitschy but occasionally effective. Overall, this was I film that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if the screenplay wasn't as powerful as I had hoped.
This movie had me from the beginning. The plot is very simple but incredibly deep. I think it was ingenious not to give any of the characters names, as they're just representations of certain types of people from that point in Australian history. It was also very clever to use paintings at various points instead of just blatantly showing what went on. The acting was fantastic, especially David Gulpilil (who is always a treat to watch) and Gary Sweet. Add in the fabulous music and the gorgeous outback scenery, and this movie is--I have to say it--a Must See.
If you've ever wondered why Aboriginal people in Australia want an
official apology from the head of government, see this film. They
haven't gotten one yet. Maybe later--time moves slowly for the
oppressed. Economically savvy, rich conservatives will not want to hear
an official State apology rendered. Why? Because, they believe that the
"sorry" campaign is a ploy to hit the Austalian Federal Government with
a plethora of expensive lawsuits. Rank and file social conservatives,
who make up about 10% of the population, just think that Aboriginals
should be happy that they've gotten citizenship in "the Lucky Country"
and keep their mouths shut.
Each character in "The Tracker" is a metaphor for prevailing historically based and continuing attitudes between the indigenous people of Australia and European settlers. Not only that, but within the dialogues and actions in "The Tracker", one can see the still existing fundamental conflict between European legal traditions and those of peoples who settled Australia some 60,000 years ago. By the end of the film, one can discern the outlines of a lasting reconciliation in Australia based on mutual respect between human beings.
If your'e not already familiar, "The Tracker" will show you what most of the Australian interior looks like. It's hot, red, dry and largely empty. Yet, if you slow down and focus your eyes, there is much more to the land than you might have thought. A good tracker could show you how large a human footprint on this natural setting of the Earth can be. A good tracker can also show you the wisdom inherent in patience and respect.
David Gulpilil plays this tracker and he steals the movie. Rolf de Heer's writing and direction in this film is to be applauded. In fact, I have yet to see a bad film come out of Rolf de Heer's directing. His "Ten Canoes" should have won greater recognition in 2006. Gary Sweet as the racist fanatic was convincing. Overflowing with hypocritical Christian piety, Sweet made me feel sick to be identified as "white". You could almost hear him saying, "We had to kill the blacks in order to save them." Damon Gameau, as the follower, played his role with wooden innocence. Grant Page as the apolitical, amoral veteran was at his best after he took a spear. But, automatons are like that.
I wanted to like this film more than I did - I wanted to be able to
rave about it unreservedly, but I couldn't.
First, I loved: David Gulpilil's performance. Such subtle contempt - almost as subtle as the way he actually tracks the landscape. This is an expression that should be seen more often in Australian cinema, just as there should be more opportunities for actors such as Gulpilil to shine. Secondly, I loved the paintings. At moments of transformation or violence (or transformation through violence - three words that sum up the history of the Australian continent) we were shown a still photograph of powerful, colorful paintings that were obviously (I hope! - I couldn't find a credit for them) by Aboriginal artists.
On the down side, the white actors were not allowed a great deal of subtlety, which was a real shame. In particular, Gary Sweet's character was so one dimensional as to be a little annoying, and I am not sure if this was the writing or the performance. Where was the fear behind the arrogance? Where was the hardness rather than blankness? I know that this was an opportunity for the story of The Tracker to shine, but that is no reason to not have well balanced performances (and writing) for the white characters also - or the story begins to lose its power and punch.
So, on balance, the performance of Gulpilil and the power of the story wins out (also probably motivated by the collective guilty conscience of all Australians) over the one dimensional white characters. A great companion piece to 'Rabbit Proof Fence'.
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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