Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Track 29’ is Bizarre and Compelling From Start to Finish
WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written around the time this movie was to be released on DVD by Image Entertainment back in 2012.
“Track 29” is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, but that’s probably because I am not very familiar with the work of director Nicolas Roeg. This is only the second movie of his I have seen, the last being “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and it helps to understand his filmmaking method before watching his work. Roeg’s movies are known for their kaleidoscope of images which are typically presented out of chronological order, and it’s left up to the viewer to make sense out of all the craziness they have just witnessed. Learning this helped me understand “Track 29” better as it is one of those WTF movies which willfully defy easy categorization.
This movie came out in 1988, and its DVD release coincides with Gary Oldman’s first ever Oscar nomination for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Oldman stars as a British orphan named Martin who has arrived in America to look for his mother. Upon meeting bored housewife Linda Henry (Theresa Russell), Martin is convinced she is his mom and tries to form the bond he has forever longed to have with her. But as the story continues, we wonder if Martin is real or if he’s just a figment of Linda’s imagination as his arrival coincides with her remembering the child she gave up for adoption years before.
The real pleasure of watching “Track 29” today is to witness Oldman at his manic best as he is a firecracker always on the verge of going off. The actor did this movie not long after he received critical raves for “Sid & Nancy” and “Prick Up Your Ears,” and watching all three movies together makes one wonder where he gets all his crazy energy from. Putting this in comparison to the more subdued work he does today as George Smiley or Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies makes one realize how amazingly far his range as an actor goes, and it makes me appreciate his work more than ever before.
Theresa Russell, who remains one of cinema’s most underrated actresses, is equally good as Linda even as she appears to be going over the top from one scene to the next. Throughout “Track 29,” Russell gives her role a strong conviction as she comes to grips with a traumatic moment in her life and a passionless marriage which has gotten to where she knows exactly what will come out of her husband’s mouth before he says it. Actors can look utterly ridiculous when they fall into the trap of playing the clichéd drunk or just running the gamut of emotions, but Russell holds your focus from beginning to end. She has always been one to take risks with each role she takes on, and this one is no exception.
Among the other actors to be found here is Christopher Lloyd who plays a role I never thought I’d see him in: the boring husband. From his roles in “Back to The Future” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” I’ve come to see Lloyd as anything but boring. But here he is amazingly bland as he takes more interest in his toy train set, which collectors of such things will be slobbering over once they see what he’s put together, than he does in his wife’s problems. Whether his character of Dr. Henry Henry (a rather unfortunate name) is having an affair with Nurse Stein (Sandra Bernhard) or making a passionate speech to the obsessive train car collectors of North Carolina, Lloyd inhabits this character fully and reminds you of what a great actor he can be.
Other excellent performances to be found in “Track 29” come from Colleen Camp as Linda’s friend Arlanda who reacts to her problems with utter bafflement, Sandra Bernhard who gets to indulge gleefully in her character’s brand of S&M, and the great Seymour Cassel as Henry’s boss Dr. Bernard Fairmont who reacts to his colleague’s bizarre behaviors with disdain and utter hilarity.
Roeg gives this movie many unforgettable images which come to illustrate the missing passion and meaning in these characters’ lives as well as the sheer violence hiding just below the surface. Watching it reminded me of “Revolutionary Road” and how Kate Winslet’s character was ever so desperate to escape the suffocating atmosphere of suburbia, but this story is given a more surrealistic quality as Oldman’s character descends into the mindset of a child who, when let loose, destroys things without a care in the world. Everything seems to act as an allusion to Linda’s unconscious desire to destroy the world she inhabits as it becomes her only way to escape it.
Image Entertainment released the DVD version of “Track 29” recently, and this is the best it has probably ever looked. As for extras and special features, this disc is frustratingly scant in those departments. It would have been nice to have a commentary track or at least some interviews with the director and cast to see how they went about making this bizarre motion picture and what their reactions were to it. The only real extras to speak of are a couple of trailers which precede the movie, and they are for the cult classic “Withnail & I,” Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa,” and “The Long Good Friday” starring Bob Hoskins. Coincidentally, these are three movies I still need to see.
Despite the lack of special features, “Track 29” is definitely worth a rental for fans of Oldman and to see him at his most emotionally unhinged in a motion picture. It may not reach the critical heights of Roeg’s other works like “Walkabout,” but it’s definitely for those who love films which defy conventional film narration. Lord knows we need movies like these every once in a while as things can’t stay the same forever.