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It would be a safe bet to think that after starring in one of the finest Western's ever made, "The Proposition" that Ray Winstone appearing in another Oceanic Western should make the probability of an enjoyable film quite high. After finding more mainstream exposure following "The Proposition" in high profile roles from "The Departed" to "Beowulf" and even "Rango," Winstone settles comfortably and confidently in the role of Arjan van Dieman, an essentially exiled South African Boer War veteran who comes to New Zealand with more than one thing on his mind. Finding the very type of man he left South Africa to escape in this new land, Arjan's quest of finding out who ordered the fate of his wife and children put on hold, as a bounty to great to pass up presents itself. The simple task is to track down Kereama (Temuera Morrison), a proud Maori warrior who like Arjan before him ran afoul of the brutish British occupiers and is falsely charged with murder. What lies ahead is a trek across the New Zealand wilds and a continuing game of cat and mouse between two proud men.
If I were to say "Tracker" suffers from a disappointing lead performance, the average viewer would instantly think blame lies with co-lead Morrison, who most American viewers only know from his role as Jango Fett in "Attack of the Clones" and a few appearances in mid to late 90s action crap. However, to the more discerning filmgoer, Morrison's talents are widely known, most acclaimed his iconic performance as Jake "The Muss" Heke in "Once Were Warriors" a sobering, unflinching character drama involving an impoverished Maori family in New Zealand. For those viewers, Morrison is a man reinvigorated, who ultimately carried the weight of the film on his broad shoulders, invoking his commanding presence and inner calm often simultaneously. No, the biggest unraveling thread of "Tracker" is shockingly, Winstone, who adopts a nearly unintelligible South African accent that leaves viewers straining to understand critical dialogue. It's most definitely Winstone's performance and not the nature of the accent itself, as similar native accents throughout "District 9" are crystal clear compared to the sad attempt here.
Confounding matters is "Tracker's" repetitious nature. Ian Sharp takes a very simple idea, a genre staple in fact, and repeats it ad nauseum over the course of an entirely too lengthy, slowly paced film. Viewers should expect either Arjan chasing Kereama, vice-versa, the two in constant verbal tango, or the looming military presence after both. While initially the cat and mouse, reversal of roles makes for a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat, Sharp winds up playing his hand too soon and the remaining film feels contrived and unnecessarily delayed to a muddled ending that quickly remembers Arjan's secondary goal in the film and tries to shoehorn in a tidy epilogue that makes the majority of the second and third act pointless. In short, "Tracker" is a powerful hour-long TV episode falsely inflated to feature film proportions.
While the film does key the eye trained on the natural beauty of the New Zealand landscape, even the cinematography remains inconsistent with some shots showing the potential to match the work of Peter Jackson's display of similar surroundings in "The Lord of the Rings," there are often shots, often mid-sequence that look cheap and lifeless. "Tracker" could have been the next big Oceanic Western, but instead settles for complete mediocrity, with only Morrison's performance standing out from the pack. Director Sharp was obviously going for a more character driven film as the sparse action is underwhelming, but ultimately a thin script, stiff supporting performances and one of the worst efforts from Ray Winstone ever recorded make it disappointingly disposable.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports above average detail and when the cinematography is in top form, is a very stunning film. Colors are consistent throughout the runtime, however, the palette has a slightly unnatural hot flavor to it with skin tones looking slightly too red. Contrast is equally consistent and overall, no glaring digital tinkering mars the picture any further.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 sound track isn't the most engrossing, with the emphasis on dialogue. As muddled as Winstone's accent is, at least it comes through clearly without distortion. The track doesn't take much effort in giving your sub a workout which is a shame, as the additional boost in audio could have given the action scenes a much needed jolt. Spanish subtitles and English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
A collection of generally pointless, promotionally minded interviews with cast and crew are the lone extras save for the film's trailer.
The old saying "you learn something new everyday" is especially applicable to "Tracker," as I learned that Ray Winstone is capable of dragging a film down to a forgettable experience. While "Tracker" doesn't set out to bring much new to the table in terms of genre entertainment, it doesn't give it an excuse to set out with a thin plot line and repetitive set pieces. Genre fans will find it worth a viewing, while general audiences wouldn't be hurt watching it solely for Morrison's performance, but just be prepared to turn on the subtitles because Winstone at times would have been well off to be speaking a foreign language. Rent It.