In the heat of the Queensland sunshine, Ivan Sen unearths the dark heart of provincial Australia with Mystery Road, a part-noir, part-western crime thriller; a small-town murder investigation with racially charged undertones. Sen’s script presents us with an unfashionable, uninviting vision of rural Australia in which returning cop, Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) attempts to solve the case of a murdered aboriginal teenager, caught between the mistrust of the local community and the prejudices of the white police.
Ostracised by the indigenous community who believe him to be a class traitor and fundamentally disliked by a cabal of conspiratorial policeman, Swan faces opposition from all sides as he searches for truth amidst an air of distrust in an unflinching but never melodramatic portrayal of a community in the grip, and at the mercy of, destructive bigotry.
Sen lets this burn slowly, never feeling compelled to rush Swan into discovering the answers to his questions, if indeed he discovers them at all. This is no romping whodunit with a bomb dropped and stone turned every ten minutes; Swan is faced with a near impenetrable wall of silence, making us feel his frustration as he earnestly struggles in his pursuits.
Pederson plays it pretty clean without ever being pious; he’s a decent man and, we sense, a decent cop to boot, but his strained relationship with an ex wife and a non-existent one with his daughter give us a bit more to consider than would a knight in shining armour. Hugo Weaving’s cop of dubious motivation provides the requisite noir treachery and a last movement twist leaves us with an air of ambiguity.
It perhaps lacks a real sense of urgency with which to really grab an audience by the balls and the tone-poem meanderings in the bush give us too little sense of the country’s character. It’s a story which takes place against a backdrop of viciousness and mean-spirited bigotry and yet I found myself wanting to fall headlong into more of a living geographical hell, instead of enjoying another sunset.
Mystery Road is solidly intriguing and anchored by good individual performances, but Ivan Sen’s decent into local oblivion could do with a bit more bite.
Crime, Thriller, World Cinema
29th August 2014(UK)
Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten