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      The Tracker
    How the Outback was won

    "The Tracker" is a thrilling Australian twist on the Western genre, following a search party whose inner tensions between whites and natives overshadow the hunt for their desert quarry.


    "The Tracker" may look like a movie about four men trekking endlessly through the Australian desert, but there are constant tensions below the surface that make it a more exciting journey than you would ever expect from the opening scenes alone.

    Written and directed by: Rolf de Heer.
    Cast: David Gulpilil, Gary Sweet, Damon Gameau, Grant Page, Noel Wilton.
    Cinematography: Ian Jones.
    The film delves into the life of a tracker exactly like a secondary character from the film "Rabbit Proof Fence" — a quiet, mysterious aboriginal man sent by the white colonists to catch three fleeing youngsters. In that film, he is simply an implacable pursuer, full of skill and silent power but never explained as a character. Where does he get his amazing abilities? Why does he work for the white colonists and where are his true sympathies?

    This film puts the tracker (played again by David Gulpilil of "Rabbit Proof Fence") into a new, more complex situation where his true nature is put to the test and his own life is very much at stake. He is helping a three-man military squad hunt down an aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. "We'll lose him if he gets to his tribe," warns the ruthlessly determined commanding officer. "Not even our dusky friend will be able to find him then."

      The Tracker
    The "dusky friend," although he has learned to camouflage his true thoughts under a curt "Yes boss!" most of the time, still has a source of power over the armed men riding on horseback behind his lead. Without him they will never find the fugitive. So the real battle of wills and wits in this story is not between the hunter and his quarry — it's a life-and-death struggle within the search party itself. The commander (Gary Sweet), ever unsure of the tracker's loyalty, warns him not to betray the whites in their hunt for the fugitive. "If I don't catch him, it will be your ears I take back with me," he says. And yet, however much he is threatened, the tracker knows that he is indispensible. If he doesn't move, the whole party doesn't move.

    This whole struggle — sometimes fought out in the open, sometimes just discernible under the surface — reflects a larger clash of power and culture in Australian history. In parts, it goes almost too far in reversing the white-black power roles, veering close to caricature of the whites and revenge fantasy on behalf of the natives. But most of the film is clever, tense and sometimes even funny.

    Two things are worth noting about the film's style. First, there is the strange and intriguing choice to stop the action during violent scenes and cuts away to native-style paintings of the same scenes. This seems at first glance like a bad idea, because it takes us out of the story just when we're meant to feel the true horror of the country's frontier violence. But it also gives a sense of something else — how the legend of this 19th-century confrontation might truly have been preserved through art and song in a nonliterate culture.

    Second, it is beautifully filmed — and not just for the sake of pretty pictures. Lush images of desert gold, green and red are not just grand vistas — they conceal the watching eyes and pointed spears of native scouts, keeping watch on the white intruders. We don't just behold the land's sweeping beauty; we scan it constantly for signs of danger. Sometimes the camera explores the faces of our four travelers, bringing us ever closer to their very different characters, even during long stretches when they're walking or riding silently through the countryside. The film has much in common with American Westerns, but with a greater sense of honesty about how the west was won. It has the same cinematic grandeur that people admire about John Ford's classic "The Searchers" without that film's racist reflexes. It's mythmaking of a much higher caliber.

    JANUARY 20, 2004

    Reader comments on The Tracker:

  • the tracker   from ella, Aug 13, 2004
  • Tracker   from cain marsh, Dec 20, 2005
  • [no subject]   from some one, Aug 11, 2006
  • [no subject]   from , Jun 24, 2008
  • The Tracker...   from Gerard Catherin, Jul 25, 2009
  • the tracker   from me the coloniel , Feb 11, 2010
  • tracker soundtrack   from Anton, Apr 5, 2011
  • re: the tracker soundtrack   from Anton, Apr 8, 2011

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