The Tracker (review)

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Can you stand another grim movie about how ignorant, bigoted, vicious, and small-minded people can be? Cuz this one is a doozy: it drags you across acres of despair, a harsh landscape of the angry, terrified side of human nature mirrored, a reverse reflection, in the desolate beauty of the Australian bush. The year is 1922, and four nameless men hunt a fugitive (Noel Wilton), an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. The three whites — the leader, the Fanatic (Gary Sweet); the young Follower (Damon Gameau); and the grizzled Veteran (Grant Page) — fall along a spectrum of human reaction to injustice, from the Follower’s innocence awakening to outrage, to the Fanatic’s single-minded inability to see it, to the Veteran’s weary surrender to its inevitability. Only the Aboriginal Tracker (David Gulpilil) seems above such pettiness, comfortable in his own land in a way that these invaders can never be. The track these four men take is, in many ways, entirely predictable, but writer/director Rolf de Heer makes their journey so startling, one so cinematic in an all-encompassing way, that the result is nevertheless shocking and profound. Woven through the film are bitter songs of protest against oppression — from composer Graham Tardif, with lyrics by de Heer, and performed with an aching passion by award-winning Indigenous musician Archie Roach; and substituting for the many scenes of violence are 14 paintings of stark, primitive power by Australian landscape artist Peter Coad, which raise the bloody, murdering guilt of the Fanatic from the actions of a character in a film to moments of shameful history for which the guilt is cultural and enduring. Bookended with the similarly themed Rabbit-Proof Fence (in which Gulpilil played a similar role), this stands as a obscene monument to a corrupt past that must not be forgotten.

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