THE TRACKER (Rolf de Heer, 2002)

This protracted arty parable has little of the skill and none of the charm of Ten Canoes (2006), which makes me wonder how much Rolf de Heer’s later film owes to its credited co-director, Peter Djigirr. The Tracker, with its pitifully poor color photography and all-round inept acting (including by David Gulpilil, who won a number of best actor prizes for his titular performance here), follows a 1922 military posse in the Australian outback searching for an escaped Aboriginal prisoner who has been charged with raping and killing a white woman. The three white men are assisted by an Aboriginal tracker, who looks on with horror as the racist mission commander indiscriminately kills Aborigines along the way. None of the film’s characters is given a name.
     Perhaps only one element contributes something worthwhile: the haunting faux-folk music by Graham Tardif, for which de Heer provided lyrics about the freedom for which oppressed Australian natives ache. But even here there is a problem: the songs are horribly sung. Archie Roach, who is Aboriginal, has less voice than vibrato.
     Everything unfolds with leaden selfconsciousness, including the inserts of faux-primitive stone murals of Aborigines as substitutes for showing their being killed by the posse. The symbolism is good: all the crimes by whites against native blacks haunt the sacred Australian landscape, its history. However, the symbolism doesn’t survive the mauling touch of de Heer’s technique.
     It is a shame not to be able to recommend a film such as this. We must never avert our eyes from the historical record of perverted white supremacist views and their tragic consequences. Alas, these views still prevail in certain heads, in certain hearts.

2 thoughts on “THE TRACKER (Rolf de Heer, 2002)

  1. Wow, what a negative review. I think we were watching a different film. I think that it attempts to give the cliche tracker role a new dynamic, and is a decent attempt at offering alternative understandings of the history we’ve learned as young Australians. There’s a lot to the character of The Tracker, and for me it’s good to see that cliche challenged, or at least explored. But seriously, what’s this about Archie Roach’s poor singing? What were you expecting, Celine Dion? I think he was fantastic. The acting, on all their parts, was good too. I’m quite surprised at your response.

  2. On one point I can defend myself, since the other charges are all of a subjective nature, one person’s opinion versus another person’s opinion. I protest that I do specify my problem with Archie Roach’s singing, and I do so in technical, musical terms, that Roach “has less voice than vibrato.” Celine Dion has nothing whatsoever to do with this.

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