Which is the hardest country? Competition would be too close to call, but you certainly wouldn’t bet against New Zealand or South Africa.
The same goes for movie tough guys Ray “The Daddy” Winstone and Temuera “Jango Fett” Morrison. So why is this NZ-set face-off between the former’s embittered Boer and the latter’s Maori murder suspect soft-focus bordering on soft-cocked?
More Deadly Pursuit than The Proposition, Tracker is all heritage cinema – comfortable, predictable, genteel. Despite the inciting murder of a soldier and hints of British war atrocities, it’s a boy’s own tale complete with dodgy accents – a nice cup of tea rather than a galvanising ration of rum.
Arriving in New Zealand at the turn of the 20th century, Winstone’s guerrilla is employed by the British army to hunt down Morrison’s “educated savage”.
To begin with, this involves Ray peering at footprints in the sand, while his prey tits about in the bush. But soon Morrison’s been caught and the culture-clash clichés begin in earnest.
“You’re the most annoying man I’ve ever met!” exclaims the exasperated Maori, although anyone who’s ever seen a buddy movie may sense grudging mutual respect.
In its final stretch, the film improves immeasurably. Both leads are powerhouse performers, and though Winstone struggles with his Afrikaans accent, the more we’re with these guys, the more we empathise with their plights.
Add in some crunchy fisticuffs and the increasingly thorny central dilemma – can a second-class citizen ever have a fair trial? – and Tracker isn’t too far from the heavyweight event these heavy-hitters deserve.
An old-fashioned adventure yarn that tramps reassuringly through familiar terrain. At least the destination – not to mention the casting – is more interesting than the journey.