Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ivan Sen
Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, David Wenham, Jacki Weaver, David Gulipilil, Tom E Lewis, Pei=pei Cheng, Kate Beahan, Max Cullen, Michael Dorman, Michelle Lim Davidson, Aaron Fa’aoso.
Ivan Sen prefers to call his latest film Goldstone a follow up to the acclaimed and award winning thriller Mystery Road rather than a sequel, in much the same way that 1970’s They Call Me Mister Tibbs was not a sequel to the Oscar winning In The Heat Of The Night. Nor it is as compelling or as convincing as Mystery Road.
We are reintroduced to flawed indigenous detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen, reprising his role from Mystery Road), but since the events of the last film he seems to have found himself in a dark place personally. He is battling his own inner demons, and has started drinking again, and he seems angry at the world.
He heads to a remote mining town of Goldstone to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young Chinese girl. But his presence makes the locals nervous. He uncovers a web of crime and corruption, and a sex slavery ring. Swan also clashes with the local cop Josh (Alex Russell, from Chronicle, etc) who arrests him for drink driving. But Josh has been compromised by his dealing with the town’s power brokers.
Jay also has to deal with the town’s powerful but corrupt mayor (Jacki Weaver) and Johnny (David Wenham), the head of the mining company who seems to control the town through bribery and intimidation. Eventually though Swan manages to prick Josh’s conscience about the sinister events happening in his town and the pair reluctantly team up to expose the dark underbelly.
Goldstone is a piece of atmospheric outback noir that follows the tropes of the classic western with its story of a stranger who comes into a hostile town and sets about trying to clean it up of its corrupt elements, albeit given a neo-noir like contemporary flavour. Sen himself admits that Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven was a big influence on the tone of the film.
The inhospitable and arid outback locations add an air of foreboding and menace. As usual, Sen has shot the film himself, and his widescreen cinematography captures the harsh beauty of the sparse sun drenched landscapes and gives the film a stunning visual quality that demands to be seen on the big screen. There are also some stunning aerial shots that emphasise the vastness of the desolate setting and the insignificance of man in this natural environment.
Pedersen is much more taciturn here; he has a much more passive presence and is given minimal dialogue. Russell has a strong presence as the naive young cop who seems to be in over his head and he is the real star of the film. Pedersen and Russell develop a dramatic tension between their two contrasting characters. Weaver seems to be channeling her evil matriarch from Animal Kingdom here, while Wenham makes for a suitably slimy company boss. David Gulpilil contributes a small but effective role as an aboriginal elder who shows Swan that strong and ancient connection to the land that they share.
Sen weaves ambitious themes of indigenous heritage and history and spirituality, the stolen generation, land rights, corporate greed and the exploitation of the mineral wealth, and the clash of cultures into the texture of a fairly conventional mystery movie. The film opens with a series of sepia toned photographs from the gold rush era that hark back to Australia’s past and operate as a piece of social commentary that eventually becomes relevant to the story.
The plot is a little too convoluted and there are many holes in the film’s logic that remain unanswered. Thematically and structurally Sen repeats many ideas from Mystery Road here – such as the climactic shootout, the small town cop whose loyalties Swan is unsure of – and he again captures that small town dynamic with its deadly secrets and air of mistrust. However, the material lacks that freshness and originality that drove the superior Mystery Road. Goldstone seems more derivative and cliched. Sen’s pacing of his tale is uneven, the dialogue is cliched and many of the characters are unfortunately one-dimensional.