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Cinema Signal:

Australian National Cinema
(National Cinemas Series)


. "The Tracker"

Men will go to great lengths to pursue justice. The question that this quest raises is... whose justice? Is this the justice of the white man of Australia when a black is accused of murdering a white woman? Is the rage at such an offense enough of a basis for an immediate acceptance of the accusation?

While this question hovers over the expedition of 1922 across the dry miles of the Australian Outback on the trail of the accused, other forms of guilt develop, ones that call for a different application of justice and a considerable need for revenge.

The four characters of the expedition are identified by their function in the story. Leading the pursuit of the accused native is the stiff backed "Fanatic" (Gary Sweet), a complex, intelligent man full of racial hatred, self-righteous zeal and self-justifying inhumanity.

However deep his contempt for anyone not of his color or calling, he has the wisdom to employ the services of the Tracker (David Gulpilil) and maintain confidence in his abilities. But this man has a mind of his own, and his rocognition of the subtlest marks on the ground are a symbol of the subtilty of his mind.

Rounding out the white posse are the Follower (Damon Gameau), a young man of no training who thinks it clever that he can pick at a mandolin and has much to learn on this journey; and the Veteran (Grant Page), an oldtimer of the army whose allegience to his leader will undergo some changes.

All are on horseback except the Tracker, who walks every foot of the journey. And, while he may seem to have the opportunity to lead the riders astray, his tracking is true. But, even as he informs the leader that their prey is half a day ahead, his ultimate goal is in question. He cleverly uses his armed, bullying employer for purposes that will take some time to be realized and to demonstrate that, while the Fanatic may be holding the gun, he's not holding all the cards.

It seems, too, that the Fugitive (Noel Wilton) is purposely leading the group deeper and deeper into the heart of the remote Outback wilderness. At times, he lingers near the group, overlooking them, even getting off a spear that finds its mark with supernatural accuracy and a deep potential for creating fear.

The Fanatic shrugs it off as a part of the mission that has to be ignored, even as hostile blacks seem to be behind every rocky outcropping, disrespecting his command. Until they come upon a small community of actual bush blacks, and the armed leader sees it as a chance to slake his thirst for blood. His gratuitously murderous actions here initiate a process of team breakdown and wilderness justice that seems inevitable.

Questionable story telling techniques are employed in support of such a simply told and steady pacing of the dramatic narrative that it might be considered more of a film from the relatively unsophisticated forties rather than a product from 2002. As a means to shy away from realistic brutality and killing, 14 figuratively painted scenes are interjected by director Rolf de Heer into the live action footage to portray moments of extreme violence and their aftermath--an interesting device but strangely awkward.

Despite the subject matter of evil, domination and unreasoned violence, the slow relentlessness of the storytelling becomes poetic. The yarn is assisted by the periodic insertion of songs that effectively evoke the mood and the meaning behind the action. The music and melody for the ten original songs is the work of composer Graham Tardif, with lyrics by de Heer. Indigenous musician Archie Roach performed the vocals which, in a slowly ingratiating way, makes the study of bravery and cowardice something of a tone poem.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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David Gulpililbr
In the shaky employ of The Tracker

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