In 1922, The Tracker (David Gulpilil) has the job of tracking an Aborigine (Noel Wilton) suspected of murdering a white woman and leads a police officer, The Fanatic (Gary Sweet), his offsider, The Follower (Damon Gameau) and a seconded assistant The Veteran (Grant Page) across the outback. The journey descends into an acrimonious and murderous trek that shifts power from one man to another, challenged by the indigenous people they come across – as well as each other.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A road movie or a chase movie, that’s how the film industry might simplify this film, reducing it to a label about the action, ignoring the substance. The Tracker tracks the footprints of an age old issue, but just like the age old clash between good and evil, the subject merits and warrants ongoing exploration and exposition. The subject is racial relationships in early (white) Australia, when – it should be remembered - not only Australian policemen but most of the world lived by the notions of white supremacy. Where the film becomes more interesting is in the exploration of individual characters in this setting, restricting its focus to four men, three of them white, but each a different human being. Many of the lines (of which there are not that many – this is visual storytelling) scrape away at the sand of ignorance that weighs down the bigotry which fuels the racial divide. Some strong lines (and a couple of clumsy ones) work to confirm a modern world view of humanity. David Gulpilil is riveting as The Tracker, a man so much more civilised, smart and worldly than his companions, but always just shy of smug. As a symbolic figure, he represents the genuine wisdom of ancient civilisations, confronted and sometimes confined by the present. He carries the chains he is forced to wear and recycles them as his weapons of justice and freedom. The Follower, likewise, finds his own moral strength by acting on his humanity. The use of special paintings by Peter Coad to depict certain violent scenes instead of filming them creates an emotional channel effectively used. Excellent cinematography adds to the visual values, while Graham Tardif’s music and Archie Roach’s haunting vocals elevate the film to a highly emotive level. Indeed, seeing the film a second time on the opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival (July 23, 2002) with the live Archie Roach band accompaniment, it occurred to me that Roach was our own equivalent of the classic black blues singers of America’s 20s and 30s. I was also struck by the power and brilliance of the ending, which manages to encapsulate the film’s heart, wrapping its humanity in humour. For all that, The Tracker is basically a tense, character driven drama that relies on the craftsmanship of cinema; it would be a grave error to dump it in the bin of politically correct Australian filmmaking.
Review by Louise Keller:
A painting brought to life, The Tracker is an enigmatic visual essay set on a vast Australian landscape. The story seems simple – but as the characters journey deeper and deeper into the unforgiving terrain, at each turn we sink deeper into an abyss of complexities. Rolf de Heer’s work is a startling insight into issues of freedom, prejudice, discrimination and as we taste fear, hatred and defiance, we become mesmerised by the mysteries and unknowables of the human condition. David Gulpilil is arresting as The Tracker, offering a wonderful characterisation of a man who superficially is simple, yet dazzles by the mysteries his culture and personality brings. The cast is small and effective – each cast member is unique and we follow each of their journeys. Gary Sweet impresses, while stuntman Grant Page and NIDA graduate Damon Gameau are effectively cast. The script is sparse, and much is left to our imagination. Violence is not shown on screen, but implied, often portrayed through paintings and bringing with it, a sense of history. The landscape and music are also key players, and of course parallels and comparisons will undoubtedly be made with Rachel Perkins’ One Night The Moon. Both are unique and outstanding Australian films; each should be viewed on its own merits. The Tracker holds our attention for the entire 95 minutes, always delivering something new and often unexpected. We are constantly on edge, never knowing which tables are about to turn; it is interesting to observe that salient balance of power and how vulnerably it can wavers in the breeze. Justice is found in surprising places – a reassuring thought.
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ROLF DE HEER INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW by Brad Green
TRACKER, THE (M)
CAST: David Gulpilil, Gary Sweet, Damon Gameau, Grant Page, Noel Wilton
PRODUCER: Rolf de Heer, Julie Ryan
DIRECTOR: Rolf de Heer
SCRIPT: Rolf de Heer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Jones ACS
EDITOR: Tania Nehme
MUSIC: Graham Tardif (songs sung by Archie Roach)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Beverley Freeman (paintings by Peter Coad)
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Globe Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 8, 2002