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Mystery Road - Film Review

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe to my articles. I'll update you with lots of fun and often free adventures in your home town.
Published October 15th 2013
All-star Australian cast
Mystery Road Films / Bunya Productions

The session I viewed of Mystery Road was introduced, in person, by Aaron Pederson who plays Jay Swan the swank, rugged, aboriginal detective in this much talked about new movie.

Pederson made a couple of comments which directed the audience towards to a richer understanding of this film rather than us evaluating it simply against its advertised status as an "Australian Western."

He spoke about us all sitting around a "cinematic campfire" and how the film had been well received and "was finding its own family."

There was this sense of shared belonging where we, the mostly whiteys in the audience, were being asked into an aboriginal community.

And in this particular outback town it's a sorrowful place where a blade of green grass would be an oddity in the endless sea of straw-yellow desolation.

It's where young girls sell their bodies to truckies to make money for drugs and alcohol. Where everyone bets out of boredom, whether it be kids playing bingo on the nature strip or adults at the pokies; where alcohol and domestic violence are a Saturday night's entertainment.

Mystery Road Films / Bunya Productions

But even in this morass, the kinship is warm and tangible. Jay Swan, might be the aboriginal who has turned white man (become a detested policeman) but he still greets everyone kindly as uncle or brother and there is the sense they are all watching his back.

Director Ivan Sen (the award-winning indigenous director of feature films such as 'Beneath Clouds' and 'Toomelah') also spoke before the movie. Although he didn't mention the fact, it has been widely reported that the material is close to home for him. Apparently three aboriginal women in his extended family have gone missing, presumably murdered in the past decade.

Tragically the sexual exploitation and even murder of young Aboriginal girls and women and the failure to solve these crimes in these outback posts is a grim reality.

In Mystery Road, the body of a young girl is found slumped inside a culvert on a quiet outback highway and Jay Swan takes on the case. He knows her like he knows everyone in the town -- there is the sense that everyone is one big extended family.

Many reviewers have called the movie "slow burning" which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Mystery Road Films / Bunya Productions

It just means that nothing happens in a hurry. There is old fashioned detective work: the clues in the forensic reports, the hunting through police files, the right bribes and the knocking on the right doors.

But what the scenarios do as they unfold is to present a portrait of the town - its racism, its bleakness and indifference and wish to sweep what it doesn't want to admit to under the filthy carpet.

Knocking on those doors enables some important cameo performances by Jack Thompson as the gnarled, half crazy old landowner and Bruce Spence (forever immortalised as Stork) as the town coroner. Whether these cameos are high points or detract from the subdued and relentless subject matter of the film is another matter.

Tasma Walton also quite effectively plays Jay Swan's estranged and presumably part aboriginal wife. We don't see domestic violence in this movie but the shot of her face when we first meet her screams of what goes on behind closed doors with her new man.

Hugo Weaving is of course outstanding as the enigmatic cop. Bad guy or good guy? He'll certainly keeps the audience guessing.

Special note must be made of Jack Charles as Old Boy, a seasoned aboriginal actor and elder and one of the "Stolen Generation." His screen credits include The Chant of Jimmie
Blacksmith (1978), Bedevil (1993), Blackfellas (1993) and Tom White (2004). He is an almighty and charismatic screen presence.

Mystery Road Films / Bunya Productions

The cinematography is also remarkable with wide shots of yellow stubble fields and desolation set against the ragged embers of burnished sunsets.

Sometimes the black burnt out cars and white grave markers are the only visual relief.

The musical score, which has just the right janginess for the mood is also remarkable. It is also the work of Ivan Sen who was not only the writer and director but also the cinematographer and composer for this film.

Viewers will be disappointed if they go just for a western style shoot-em-up style movie - although there is a decent stretch of that as well. In fact, it is a film somewhat lacking in the usual intermittent violence we have become accustomed and perhaps almost immune to.

The violence here is mostly internalised in the townsfolk and their haunted eyes and burnt out lives. The term 'slow burning' has more than on connotation in this remarkable movie.

Mystery Road is in cinemas nationally from October 17.

Image Mystery Road website
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*Nadine Cresswell-Myatt was invited as a guest
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Why? More than your usual shoot-em-up.
When: October 2013
Where: Selected Cinemas
Your Comment
Great movie, I saw it at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
by Coffee Break With Belinda (score: 2|362) 1604 days ago
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