In 1922, a small team of white policemen follow a black tracker into the desert in search of a black fugitive. The Tracker is a parable about reconciliation between black and white Australians.Director Rolf de Heer conveys his simple story through a combination of music, movement and painting - much as an indigenous storyteller would. Archie Roach’s soundtrack of narrative songs transforms The Tracker almost into a musical. And scenes of graphic violence are replaced by Peter Coad’s paintings, although we still hear the shocking actions behind the image.
De Heer’s boldness as an Australian filmmaker, both in his choice of subjects and storytelling, is energising (he also made Bad Boy Bubby and Dance Me To My Song). He deserves praise for exploring this particular historical context, a recent time when the subjugation and massacring of black by white continued in Australia.
But The Tracker’s heavy symbolism is finally wearying. We’re not told the characters’ names; they simply exist according to their position or function as Tracker (David Gulpilil), Fanatic (Gary Sweet), Follower (Damon Gameau) and Veteran (Grant Page).
The roles of Fanatic and Follower are too limited for the actors, accomplished as they are, to surprise us. Legendary stuntman Page (Mad Max) is especially wasted. His part in the story is too small, and the potential to make use of his experienced features is sadly lost.Only Gulpilil (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Walkabout), with his fluid face and movements, supplies a performance ambiguous enough to fully engage. It’s hard to take your eyes off him.