MYSTERY ROAD: THE REVIEW

Salty Kernel, Andrew Brusentsev, reviews MYSTERY ROAD, an Australian outback cop thriller I was pissed to miss at the SFF and a couple of other opportunities that have popped up. You have got to love some good outback Australian crime and murder, the country itself is murderous enough but throw in some whack job crazy and angry Aussies and you are up the dry creek-bed without a paddle. MYSTERY ROAD released today on limited, I would suggest art house release, and is rated M – it runs for 122mins.

 

Ivan Sen, Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tony Barry, Roy Billing, Zoe Carides, David Field, Damian Walshe-Howling, Tasma Walton, Samara Weaving
MYSTERY ROAD – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

Mystery Road is a movie which I failed to catch this year at the Sydney Film Festival.  It screened on the opening night and from the heavyweight cast present I was very keen to see it. It was written and directed by Ivan Sen. A man who has made a name for himself making very strong indigenous movies with important messages, movies with a message not only for the Australian audience but for the world stage.

Mystery Road immediately immerses the viewer in that beautifully shot and paced classic Hollywood western. These themes have been done before, in Australia I recall the absolutely brilliant The Proposition, a prime exponent of this melding of genres. And although Jay Swan, the principle played by Aaron Pederson, wears a cowboy boots and a white hat, his Australianness evident by his Aboriginality is constantly at the fore.

 

Ivan Sen, Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tony Barry, Roy Billing, Zoe Carides, David Field, Damian Walshe-Howling, Tasma Walton, Samara Weaving
MYSTERY ROAD – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

The movie is shot in remote Queensland. A harsh but achingly beautiful part of the country. Ivan Sen not only wrote, directed and wrote the music but also was responsible as cinematographer for the visual feast that I was treated too. Life is tough for Jay Swan; he is an Aboriginal detective who has come back to his hometown near Winton. A place where everyone knows everyone and the divisions between black and white are visible to everyone.

His fellow policemen give him short shrift, mocking him as just another “tick in the box” black man getting favouritism by anti-discrimination policies. His ex-wife Mary (Tasma Walton), a depressed and troubled alcoholic openly loathes him, and his estranged daughter Cristal (Trisha Whitton) doesn’t know what to think of him. He left her after all.

It seems that Ivan Sen has been able to capture the landscape and its unforgiving nature and directly paint it on the characters. Nobody here is happy; it all seems oppressive and depressing. But that is not his only brushstroke. He gives us an aching melancholy with long camera pans of red cliffs, plains and the sounds of the bush basking in violet skies. It really is quite beautiful.

 

Ivan Sen, Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tony Barry, Roy Billing, Zoe Carides, David Field, Damian Walshe-Howling, Tasma Walton, Samara Weaving
MYSTERY ROAD – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

At the beginning of the film Swan is called out to a crime scene discovered by a passing truck driver up on Mystery Road. A road that extends farther than the eye can see in both directions, passing through the town and then like so much else moving on and through. A body is found. that of an indigenous girl. He is told by his Sergeant (Tony Barry) that the police have better things to do but Swan presses on regardless. Sen does a great job on this part of the story. It is easy to reach the obvious conclusion that had the girl been white more attention would have been paid. But here it seems as if it business as usual.

The issue becomes even more urgent when Swan discovers that the girl is a friend of his daughter’s. But all of this progresses at a somewhat glacial pace. It seems that Sen has sacrificed the drama and plot for the visual feast. There are gorgeous shots of Swan alone in his large house, eating dinner alone, driving alone, walking alone, and spending sleepless nights again alone. I found myself trying to find the underlying meaning to all of this? Is it deliberately open ended.

Swan’s loneliness then shifts to urgency when he learns that another girl, another friend of his daughter’s has also been found dead.  It seems that Sen is playing upon the motif of the Aboriginal tracker or the Indian tracker (from Western mythology), a noble man hated by both sides as a turncoat. I would have liked to have seen this explored more but Sen chooses to have Pedersen silent in most scenes and anyone who has seen the absolute genius of “Wildside” knows that he is a more than a capable actor.

 

Ivan Sen, Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tony Barry, Roy Billing, Zoe Carides, David Field, Damian Walshe-Howling, Tasma Walton, Samara Weaving
MYSTERY ROAD – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

It seems this choice for silence allows the script to be resurrected by some fine bit performances by Jack Thompson, as an elderly recluse, and Jack Charles who lives next door to his wife and daughter. Ryan Kwanten, Hugo Weaving and David Field all gifted actors do what they can but to me I felt they were wasted. They were not given enough. Weaving with his usual aplomb gives us another master class in acting as Pedersen’s detective colleague Johnno but it is too short.

There were so many tantalising options to explore here. The divide between black and white, the oppressive hopelessness of both communities, drugs, drinking, under age prostitution but it seems we are left to connect our own dots.

As we reach the conclusion which erupts into surprising action, violence and suspense I was left wondering what could have been with this movie.

I would still recommend it. Sen is a talent there is no doubt about it. His voice is strong and his opinions and ideas do matter. Perhaps next time I would choose perhaps to allow him to create the visuals and score and have someone else take the helm with the script. Now that would be a movie!

 

3 Pops