'Girls' star Adam Driver steals Venice spotlight

Adam Driver, from hit TV series "Girls", stole the show at Venice on Thursday with his delightful supporting performance in competition entry "Tracks". Meanwhile, a punishingly long German domestic abuse drama tested critics’ patience.


You know you’re watching a good actor if you miss him whenever he’s off-screen.

And so it was with Adam Driver, the goofy, 29-year-old hipster sex symbol from HBO’s hit series “Girls", who plays a supporting role in the Venice competition entry “Tracks” (shown to the press on Thursday).

Director John Curran’s film tells the true story of Robyn Davidson, a restless young woman (played by rising Aussie star Mia Wasikowska) who trekked 2,000 miles across the Australian desert in 1975, accompanied only by her dog and four camels that she trained herself.

Driver plays Rick Smolan, the National Geographic photographer who met up with Robyn periodically, and, according to the film, loved her in spite of – or perhaps because of -- her fierce independence and refusal to let him or anyone else intrude on her journey.

‘Tracks’: pretty and slightly dull

The film is lovely to look at, with cleanly framed, golden-hued widescreen images of desert scenery so evocative you practically taste the dust. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit dull.

Curran’s restrained, slightly detached classicism worked nicely for his 2006 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Painted Veil”, a story of slow-building romantic love borne of respect rather than passion. But in “Tracks”, Robyn’s commitment to the trek borders on fanaticism, and the material all but cries out for a director capable of narrowing the focus and bringing us inside her obsession (Jane Campion comes to mind).

As subtle and skillful an actress as Wasikowska is, she’s a naturally reserved performer; in a film like this, with Robyn spending most of the running time trudging alone and in close-up, she needed to be pulled out of her shell a bit more to make the character compelling. Curran is content to stand back and give us a pretty travelogue, complete with an overly present score and some predictable developments (the arrival of hostile wild animals, a sand storm, encounters with kindly Aborigines) providing emotional cues.

That said, “Tracks” leaps to life whenever Rick stops by to snap photos and check up on Robyn.

With his floppy hair, gangly gait, over-ripe features and thick, sleepy voice, Driver looks like a character actor (which he certainly can be, as in Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” and the upcoming Coen brothers gem “Inside Llewyn Davis”), and his line delivery, at once slacker-ish and neurotic, makes him sound like one, too. But he has the charisma of a leading man, and his prickly chemistry with Wasikowska is by far the best thing in the movie. Rick gradually wins Robyn over with his good-natured chatter and oddball charm, but she doesn’t want to need him, so she pushes him away again and again. Driver registers his character’s conflicting feelings of hurt and protectiveness with such delicacy that you sort of wish Robyn would drop the attitude and let him stick around longer.


At the same time, I hope Driver resists the pull toward mainstream stardom if it comes; better to relish him in smaller, interesting roles than tire of him as the lead of mediocre Hollywood vehicles.

A domestic abuse drama too mannered to matter

The other competition film screened for the press on Thursday was “The Police Officer’s Wife”, a tedious, punishingly long (175 minutes) German drama from Philip Groning.

In telling the story of a woman, her increasingly abusive cop husband and their young daughter, the director has divided his movie into 59 brief vignette “chapters”. It’s a maddening touch, which, along with the overuse of close-ups, high-angle shots and ostensibly symbolic images of nature (rushing streams, various animals), makes the film play more like an arty stunt than a serious examination of intertwined violence and love.

In other words, it could very well be the kind of movie a film festival jury chooses to recognise when it's time to hand out prizes.


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