Mystery Road is the latest film for writer, director Ivan Sen who achieved critical acclaim with his ethereal debut feature Beneath Clouds in 2002. This crime drama features many of the impressive stylistic touches that made Beneath Clouds so striking but with its glacial pace and thin plot may tax the patience of some audiences.
Aaron Pederson (Jack Irish, Water Rats) stars as detective Jay Swan, an Aboriginal man recently returned to his home town after a 10 year absence. Scorned by the local rednecks and treated with suspicion by the indigenous community for being a cop, he’s a man caught between two worlds. While investigating the murder of an Aboriginal girl, he unearths what appears to be police corruption and links to drug dealing and organised crime. It soon becomes apparent that his investigations could have fatal consequences for him and others.
Mystery Road is an intriguing mix of western and film noir police procedural with Pederson, like Gary Cooper in High Noon, the lone hero battling sinister forces in a vast empty land. Also, like the detective in a film noir his investigations unearth a corrupt power structure that becomes extremely dangerous when meddled with.
Like the classic western hero, Pederson is stoic and unemotional yet sufficiently charismatic to provide the film with a powerful centre. His performance, however, can’t overcome the film’s languid tone and the limitations of a script that while uneventful, is still cluttered with red herrings. An attempt to introduce some action later in the film results in a ridiculous shootout in which self-proclaimed expert marksman display worse shooting skills than the bad guys in a Steven Segal film.
Mystery Road also features an almost comical parade of name Aussie actors in minor and usually underwritten roles including Hugo Weaving, Zoe Carides, Roy Billing, Tasma Walton and David Field. While his appearance is extremely brief, Jack Thompson at least delivers a convincing and impassioned performance as an elderly man damaged by the town’s corruption.
The film touches on some of the issues afflicting economically-depressed Aboriginal communities but as it devolves into a straight ahead police drama, it fails to explore these issues in sufficient depth.
As we would expect from Sen, Mystery Road looks stunning with vivid shots of ominous, wind-swept plains and dilapidated housing projects. Consequently, Mystery Road again proves that Sen is an astonishing filmmaker but let’s hope he can find or create a script to match his remarkable talents as a visual stylist.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Ivan Sen
Release date: 15th August 2013
Running time: 122 mins.
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