For his first big case, Swan is assigned the death of a teenage girl found in a culvert outside town, her throat slashed. Using methodical, old-fashioned police work, Swan’s by-the-numbers investigation leads him down paths both predictable and surprising. The inquiries grow to implicate Swan’s white ex-wife Mary (Tasma Walton) and daughter Crystal (Tricia Whitton), from whom he’s estranged, as well as his cryptic commanding officer (Tony Barry), condescending colleague Johnno (Hugo Weaving) and hostile kangaroo hunter Pete (“True Blood’s” Ryan Kwanten).Holding the narrative tightly together is Sen’s superb script — his fourth produced dramatic feature and first genre exercise. Rich in imaginative metaphor and brooding symbolism, the film incorporates such disparate elements as the growing threat of wild dogs in the region, the God’s-eye shots of Swan navigating the town’s roads and even the dusty red dirt that coats everything in the outback, creating an atmosphere of brooding menace and moral rot.A la “Chinatown” (at times Swan reminds of J.J. Gittes), the physical location
Mystery Road is a place of metaphorical destiny where something transformative happens. In this case, the titular outlying trail is the site of a visceral, nearly wordless and spectacularly choreographed 15-minute gun battle, pitting hero against miscreants known and unknown. One need only register the race of the last man standing to figure out Sen’s views on the fate of his protag — and, by extension, indigenous peoples in general.Pedersen’s laconic delivery fronts a distinguished lineup of Aussie character talent that includes Weaving at his most malevolent, Bruce Spence as the philosophical town coroner, David Field as a particularly contemptuous resident and Jack Thompson as an aging local recluse with a key piece of information.Tech package is aces down the line, highlighted by Sen’s widescreen 5k lensing on the Red Epic camera and some particularly complex sound work, which emphasizes the determined clonk of Swan’s cowboy boots, the cacophony of gunplay echoing off buttes, and the whisper of the eternal outback wind.
Film Review: ‘Mystery Road’
Reviewed at State Theater, Sydney, June 5, 2015. (In Sydney Film Festival — opener.) Running time: 121 MIN.
(Australia) A Dark Matter (in Australia/New Zealand)/Well Go USA Entertainment (in U.S.) release of a Mystery Road Film production, in association with Screen Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corp., Screen Queensland. (International sales: Arclight Films, Sydney.) Produced by David Jowsey. Executive producers, Gary Hamilton, Michael Wrenn.
Directed, written, edited by Ivan Sen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Sen; music; Sen; production designer, Matt Putland; set decorators, Charlie Shelley, Mike Bailey; costume designer, Vanessa Loh; sound, (Digital 5.1 surround), Nick Emond; visual effects, Clint Dodd; stunt coordinator, Reg Roordink; associate producer, Aaron Pedersen; assistant director, Peter McLennan; casting, David Jowsey, Sen.
Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson, Tasma Walton, Tony Barry, Robert Mammone, Jack Charles, Damian Walshe-Howling, David Field, Bruce Spence, Daniel Roberts, Samara Weaving, Roy Billing, Zoe Carides, Tricia Whitton.