Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of finishing post and releasing my 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week 112: The Tracker
When I first saw this Australian Western as a teenager at the Scottsdale Film Festival, I was astounded by its poetic style, its use of songs and paintings, and its powerful story. Now, nearly two decades later, my appreciation of the film continues if the years and my other watching experiences may have altered the way I see it.
It is hard now to watch The Tracker without thinking of Sweet Country, a brilliant Australian Western that was released a few years ago and made the top of my 10 best that year. It has a similar subject, though the execution is more complex and the film has a harsher tone. In comparison, Rolf de Heer’s film feels like allegory with characters less as realistic depictions and more as representations of a type. For that reason, the central racist character isn’t explored with much depth. Though he has a couple human moments, he is shown as hateful without us knowing why. Years ago, that didn’t bother me. Now it does. The simplistic representations did not effect this 35 year old viewer as they did my impressionable self.
However, the film retains much of its power through the use of Archie Roach’s songs and the brilliant choice of showing all violence/death through paintings. The lyrical music that follows the four characters through most of the trek through the desert remains the film’s strongest element. I have truly never seen songs used like this in a Western and would love to attempt something like this myself. I remember how shocked I was years ago when de Heer cut away from violence to show shootings, hangings, and more in paintings. It is a daring choice and one that surprisingly has more of a disturbing effect than showing the actual violence would, especially since it removes the entertainment of seeing the action of killing.
Back in the day, I wanted to remake this in the American West. Now, I still feel the urge to riff off this courageous Western from down under and use some of these elements to create something new.
Watched on Amazon Prime.