Tracks (2004, USA)
Based on a true story, this follows Peter Madagin, an angry teenager who gets 5 years in an adult prison after a railway engineer dies in the train that he and his mates derail while mucking around, acting tough. It’s hard work empathising with him – so hard, in fact, that the film doesn’t work. Well, that’s just one of the reasons the film doesn’t work.
When Madagin (Chris Gunn) arrives in prison one should feel worried for him – a kid from the suburbs, new to prison. But he’s unlikeable. He looks too old to be a teenager. He feels he’s been hard done by, shows no remorse, and doesn’t think he deserves to be in jail. He drives people away, partly because every time someone says something he doesn’t like, he shouts and abuses them, no matter who they are or where they are. No doubt the writers thought that his outbursts reflect the immaturity, the impetuosity of youth. But self-centredness and arrogance from someone with nothing to be arrogant about are not a good look, irrespective of age.
Yes, he has to ward off an unwelcome approach from another prisoner, and a guard sexually abuses him, brutally. This awakens disturbing memories of his father, who also used to abuse him. Should we then excuse all the unpleasant traits of his character? One of the guards, Brian Clark (played by Ice-T), senses his troubled past and is always there to help him despite Madagin treating him as a moron. None of this feels real; not the savage abuse by the guard, the manner in which Madagin deals with it, the way in which his contemptuous manner is tolerated by Officer Clark, or Clark seeking Madagin’s help with his algebra studies and sharing his cookies with him.
Anyway, Madagin gets a chance at a halfway house and soon blows it, still having no understanding of the concept of self-responsibility. He goes back to jail, gets into some nasty scrapes and moral dilemmas, and gets out having miraculously worked through some of the pressing issues that he had to deal with. Bravo!
It’s ultimately very unsatisfying; poorly scripted and cheap and nasty (despite the assistance of Sing Sing). In the end, you are glad that he’s buried some demons, but might wonder how much he’s really learned.
Posted on December 26th, 2009 at 9:46 pm. Updated on December 26th, 2009 at 9:46 pm.
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