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Featured DVD Review: Tracker

August 20th, 2011

Tracker - Buy from Amazon

As I've mentioned in the recent past, low-budget westerns have been making a comeback and there have been a number of these DVDs to arrive on my desk. Like most low-budget films, the hit-to-miss ratio has been a little on the low side, but I go into each film hoping to find an undiscovered gem. Will Tracker reward my optimism? Or is it yet another miss?

The Movie

Ray Winstone stars as Arjan van Diemen, whom we meet at the end of the second Boer War. He used to be a farmer but was pressed into combat, proved, to be quite the tracker and made a lot of enemies with the British. The war ended with him losing everything (his farm and his family) and he is now in New Zealand looking to start anew. This could be a problem, as his reputation proceeds him and one of the high ranking British soldiers now stationed in New Zealand, Sergeant Major Saunders, immediately arrests him. On the other hand, the Major Pritchard Carlysle, who is Saunders' superior, understands the war is over and just wants to make sure he isn't there to cause trouble. (And to offer a rather weak apology for what happened during the war.)

Shortly afterward, Sergeant Major Saunders and two fellow soldiers are on their way back to barracks from a bar and very drunk when they come across Kereama, a Māori, with Lucy, a prostitute, while they are in the army stables. Saunders, still sore at having to let Arjan van Diemen go, decides to take his anger out on Kereama, and when the fight escalates, Saunders accidentally kills one of his fellow soldiers. Kereama immediately flees, while Saunders and the remaining soldier say Kereama attacked them, unprovoked, and they clearly intimidate Lucy into going along. Major Pritchard Carlysle has no choice but to go after Kereama, but since Kereama is a Māori, they are going to need a good tracker to help them. Fortunately, they have two: Mr. Bryce and Arjan. Bryce is a local and the best around, while Arjan's reputation with Major Pritchard Carlysle is enough that he offers a reward of 25 sovereign for Kereama, 100 if he can bring him back alive. (That's about 23.5 ounces of gold, which at today's price would be about $43,589.25.)

The next morning Arjan van Diemen, Major Pritchard Carlysle, Bryce, and half-a-dozen soldiers ride off after Kereama. It isn't long before Arjan and Bryce disagree about the tracks and Arjan goes off on his own. Turns out Arjan was right and after tracking Kereama for a day or so, he's able to capture him. That's not where the story ends. As good as Arjan is at tracking someone, Kereama is just as good, and just as determined, at escaping.

The rest of the movie is a cat and mouse chase between Arjan van Diemen and Kereama, with the two men talking whenever the former catches the latter. And as they talk, they begin to form a bond.

When it comes to low-budget westerns, there are a few hazards filmmakers will encounter. Firstly, creating the look can be expensive, as you need to build sets, put a lot of people into vintage costumes, etc. This film deals with that by having most of the film take place in the great outdoors of New Zealand, and there are few places as photogenic as New Zealand. (I think Vancouver is one of them, as we are also blessed with a wide variety of diverse locations.) It is also quite expensive to do stunts, especially with an inexperience cast. Fortunately, this film doesn't have that problem. Both Ray Winstone and Temuera Morrison have more than enough experience to handle the action scenes. Also, there are not that many action scenes, as much of the movie is just the two main characters talking.

This does lead into the only real problem with this film. It has pacing issues from time to time. It's not a major problem, because both Ray Winstone and Temuera Morrison are really good in their roles and the dialogue has a strong balance of the dramatic and the humorous. There's quite a bit of character development, not to mention enough suspense to maintain interest. However, don't go in expecting a guns blazing kind of action / western, or you will be disappointed.

The Extras

There are five interviews with the director and the four main cast members (Ray Winstone; Temuera Morrison, Gareth Reeves (Major Pritchard Carlysle); and Andy Anderson (Mr. Bryce). The total running time is just over seventeen minutes, which is better than a lot of direct-to-DVD releases.

The Verdict

I've reviewed a lot of westerns that have gone direct-to-DVD recently, and Tracker is one of the best. It's got good acting, solid writing, the stunts are well done when called upon, and it takes advantage of the natural beauty of New Zealand. The DVD doesn't have a huge amount of extras, but it is still worth picking up over just renting.

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