Mystery Road
dir-scr Ivan Sen
prd David Jowsey
with Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tasma Walton, Robert Mammone, Tony Barry, Damian Walshe-Howling, David Field, Jack Charles, Bruce Spence, Roy Billings
release Aus 15.Aug.13, UK Oct.13 lff
13/Australia 1h02
Mystery Road
On the case: Petersen

weaving thompson kwanten
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mystery Road Writer-director Sen captures a vivid sense of life in the Australian Outback in this rural Wild West-style drama. And he cleverly undermines the film's thriller-like plot with low-key pacing and a refusal to indulge in genre cliches. The problem is that this makes the film almost inert, as it never generates even a hint of suspense.

After returning home to rural Queensland from the big city, Jay (Pedersen) is now a detective on the police force. And his first big case involves the murder of a young Aboriginal girl who seems to have been tangled up with a drug and prostitution ring. This hits home because Jay's estranged teen daughter knew the victim. But as he investigates, he realises that the criminals are deeply entrenched in the community. And the last cop who rattled them turned up dead.

Sen also serves as cinematographer, editor and composer, and is clearly less interested in the police action than he is in the undercurrents of bigotry and vice in this sleepy town. He also focusses tightly on Jay throughout the story, exploring his own reactions to the racially charged accusations that are levelled at him. The other characters are essentially cameos, but each adds a key element to the film's oppressive atmosphere.

Weaving has the most scene-stealing role as a shifty cop colleague, but everyone else adds plenty of texture in their scenes, including Kwanten as a defensive farmer and Thompson as a woolly loner. But Pedersen quietly holds the film together in an almost Eastwoodesque way as the stranger who is actually a bit too well-known in this dusty town. And he beautifully underplays the true essence of the film: Jay's yearning to understand his own place in the world.

Mystery Road is perhaps the nicest landmark in a community that also has a Massacre Creek and Slaughter Hill. Indeed, these place-names are indicative of the central storyline, which quietly creeps from one frustrated conversation to the next by way of some extremely gritty gunplay. The film moves far too slowly for us to properly engage with the plot, but by the end we feel like we've spent a week in this rather twisted corner of the world. And we're glad we don't have to call it home.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Sep.13 lff

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