Neil’s Commonplace Book
January 27, 2014
A very good film with superb cinematography
“Mystery Road” is a thriller (with film noir overtones) and a western rolled into one. It examines race relations in modern-day Australia, in particular those between the indigenous Aboriginal population and those Australians of European descent. It does so through the eyes of Aboriginal detective Joe Swan (Aaron Pedersen), who returns after a period of 10 years away to the remote small Australian town in which his daughter Crystal (Tricia Whitton) and her mother – Swan’s estranged wife, Mary (Tasma Walton) – live. Swan is immediately thrown into the investigation of the murder of a teenage Aboriginal girl, whose body has been discovered in the outskirts of the town. His investigations soon yield a great deal of uncomfortable information, including police corruption, sexual exploitation and the possible involvement in the crime of his ex-wife and daughter (as well as sundry other local residents). The laconic detective has to contend with a complete lack of co-operation from his police colleagues and from the town’s residents, who view any form of authority with suspicion and utter disdain. It all leads to a closing shoot-out sequence that is, for once, realistic and which is beautifully filmed. Indeed, one of the film’s many strong points is its direction (by screenplay writer Ivan Sen). The cinematography (for which Sen is also responsible) is amazingly good – just about the best I have seen in any film. The cast too are terrific, particularly Pedersen and Hugo Weaving (who plays Johnno, a possibly corrupt white police colleague of Swan’s). The only aspect of the film about which I have reservations is the plot, which does not seem to me to hang together. I may have missed something but there appear to be unexplained gaps in parts of the story. Other than that, “Mystery Road”, which starts slowly before gradually building up to its dramatic conclusion, is an almost faultless film – and is certainly one that is worth looking out for. 8/10.
In the Australian film, MYSTERY ROAD, Jay Swan, AARON PEDERSEN, an aboriginal detective, has returned to his home town in the Outback after some time away in the city. The only indigenous member of a local force that includes commanding officer TONY BARRY and enigmatic HUGO WEAVING, Swan soon finds himself investigating a murder – the death of a young girl whose body is found beside the road. The investigation reveals a sinister underside to the community.
Ivan Sen’s outback thriller has a great deal going for it: spectacular widescreen photography, a very charismatic central performance, an intriguing plot that, in classic style, gradually reveals more and more layers that surround the murder investigation. There’s a superlative cast that includes DAVID FIELD as a local property owner, RYAN KWANTEN as a kangaroo shooter, JACK THOMPSON as a grizzled old timer, TASMA WALTON as Swan’s ex-wife, TRICIA WHITTON as his daughter and BRUCE SPENCE as the town coroner. Despite all these qualities, the film doesn’t quite soar; maybe Sen, who wrote it, photographed it, edited it AND composed the music, was too close to the material to see that there are some troubling confusions, that the screenplay doesn’t always join all the dots, that important questions remain unanswered. MYSTERY ROAD is, indeed, a bit of a mystery – but there are so many wonderful elements to the film that you wish the confusions had been ironed out more satisfactorily.
MARGARET: I know what you’re talking about but it didn’t worry me. I think Ivan Sen is really an artist filmmaker in this country.
DAVID: I wouldn’t dispute that.