When an interrogation of some bush blacks turns into a massacre, paranoia sets in, and the question becomes not will the fugitive be caught, but what is black and what is white and who is leading whom?
The film opens with a painted landscape – and this is signficant because paintings by Adelaide artist Peter Coad are integrated into the action of the film to historify events and to move the violence from realistic representation. Into this landscape come four men – four archetypal characters. They are the Fanatic (Gary Sweet) a government trooper who is heading an expedition to find an aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. Others in the expedition are the Follower (Damon Gameau) a greenhorn trooper, the Veteran (Grant Page), and the Tracker (David Gulpilil).
Like a tapestry unfolding the film charts the attitudes, the shifts and balances of power within the group as if it were the history of white settlement here. Along the way are confronting scenes of violence. But at the heart of every scene is the Tracker.
Graham Tardif composed and Archie Roach sings on the soundtrack and it was one of the most emotional film experiences of my life to see The Tracker with Roach performing live at the opening of the Adelaide Festival.
De Heer’s use of Coad’s paintings adds an uncanny power to the film, strangely making the violence more meaningful, more tragic, taking away any notion that’s it’s only a movie. David Gulpilil brings important heart to the film. De Heer’s screenplay and direction has extraordinary compassion despite the violence. It’s actually a film that’s important not to miss.