John Curran's "Tracks" may look like another version of "Eat, Pray, Love," the 2010 hit based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir about self-discovery through solo travel. In "Tracks," Mia Wasikowska plays Robyn Davidson, who walked 1,700 miles across the Australian Outback in 1977 -- accompanied only by camels and a dog -- and later wrote a best-seller about her journey. Opposite her is Adam Driver as Rick Smolan, a freelance photographer who periodically chronicled Davidson's progress for National Geographic magazine. On the posters for "Tracks," they make an attractive and dramatic-looking couple, framed against a golden desert and darkening clouds.
Actually, "Tracks" has very little love and no praying at all, and the eating is subsistence-level (lots of kangaroo). It may be closer to "Into the Wild," another movie based on a nonfiction book about a wandering loner, but without the overriding sense of folly and doom.
So what is this movie? At its best, "Tracks" is a gorgeously filmed but impressively unsentimental story about a woman accomplishing something by and for herself. (Roly Mintuma briefly plays her Aboriginal guide, Mr. Eddy.)
Davidson's motivations seem deeply personal -- the ghost of her mother, a suicide, haunts her journey -- but also broadly philosophical. In her narration, Wasikowska's Davidson describes a yearning to escape "the self-indulgent negativity that was so much the malaise of my generation, my sex and my class." It's a resonant statement that could have been written in any of the decades since.
Mostly silent, a tad abrasive and emotionally withholding, Davidson is tough to get a handle on. Wasikowska, though, is superb in the role, using little but her eyes and the occasional smile to convince us that something runs deep in this unknowable woman. Driver is also good as Smolan, her polar opposite, an amiable but career-minded chatterbox. Their unsteady relationship, briefly intimate but mostly symbiotic, helps liven up what could have been a lonely film.
Curran's dreamy, semisurreal visuals, along with Mandy Walker's shimmering cinematography and Garth Stevenson's fluid score, help us see the world through Davidson's eyes. What "Tracks" can't quite do is take us into Davidson herself. She remains a mystery, which probably suits her just fine.
PLOT The story of Robyn Davidson's 1977 solo trek through the Australian desert.
RATING PG-13 (thematic elements, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language)
CAST Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver
BOTTOM LINE John Curran's movie is like his central figure: an attractive enigma.