The four characters of the expedition are identified by their function in the story. Leading the pursuit of the runaway native is the stiff-backed "Fanatic" (Gary Sweet), a complex, intelligent man full of racial hatred, self-righteous zeal and self-justifying cruelty. However deep his contempt for anyone not of his color or calling, he has the wisdom to employ the services of the "Tracker" (David Gulpilil), although without much trust from the man. His own recognition of subtle marks on the ground suggest the subtlety of his mind.
Rounding out the white posse are the "Follower" (Damon Gameau), a young man of no training who thinks it clever that he can pick at a mandolin; and the "Veteran" (Grant Page), an old timer of the army whose allegiance to his leader will undergo some changes.
All are on horseback except the Tracker, who walks every step of the journey. And, while he may seem to have the opportunity to lead the riders astray, his tracking is true. Still, his expression tells us that his ultimate goal is in question. Even when the Fanatic puts him in chains, he seems to be using his employer as much as the man is using him. The Fanatic may be holding the gun, but he's not holding all the cards.
It seems, too, that the Fugitive (Noel Wilton) is purposely leading the trail deeper and deeper into the remote outback wilderness. At times, we see him lingering near his pursuers, overlooking them, even throwing a spear that finds its mark with supernatural accuracy, striking fear into the already demoralized heart of the team.
Questionable storytelling techniques are employed in support of a simply told dramatic narrative. It might be considered more a film from the unsophisticated '40s rather than a product from 2002. As a means to shy away from gross brutality and killing, for example, 14 figuratively painted scenes are interjected by director Rolf de Heer into the live action footage to portray moments of extreme violence and their aftermath -- an interesting device implying an historical dimension, but strangely awkward in terms of film pacing.
Despite the subject matter of evil, domination, and unreasoned violence, the slow relentlessness of the journey and its psychological interplay develop an epic quality. The yarn is assisted by the periodic insertion of songs that evoke the mood and meaning behind the action. The 10 original songs are the work of composer Graham Tardif, with lyrics by de Heer. Indigenous musician Archie Roach performed the vocals which, in a slowly ingratiating way, make the balance of bravery and cowardice something of a tone poem.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 8th August 2002
Distributed by: ArtMattan Productions
Production compaines: Franchise Pictures, Muse Entertainment Enterprises
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Rolf de Heer
Screenwriter: Rolf de Heer