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The story of Lena, the light-skinned daughter of an Aboriginal mother and Irish father and Vaughn, a Murri boy doing time in a minimum security prison in North West NSW. Dramatic events ... See full summary »
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Much of this film is shot in the small Australian town of Winton. Mystery Road held its first screening there. Some of iconic Australian film, Crocodile Dundee, was shot there (The Walkabout Creek Pub Scene). See more »
The detective wakes up just as his bedside clocks changes to 4:17. He picks up the victim's phone and it says 10:04. See more »
There is much to commend in this outback-set crime drama from director, writer and cinematographer, Ivan Sen.
The first scene sets up the whole film most deftly: its depiction of the magnitude of the land at sunset coupled with the place name, Massacre Creek, instantly makes it clear that the vastness of the Australian terrain and inglorious, largely unrepented historic events will frame what follows.
Aaron Pedersen plays the police detective Jay Swan, an Aboriginal returning from 'the city' to his small and extremely isolated home town after a 10 year absence. He is estranged from his former wife, now an alcoholic making a hash of raising their daughter, and also the community in which he was raised. Not fully accepted by the white community either, he is the classic outsider forced to go it alone.
Swan is assigned to the case of a murdered Aboriginal teenage girl whose body is found in a state of some decay quite some time after her violent end. It probably won't come as a great shock to find that the rest of the local constabulary, all white and male, are not only indifferent to the crime but hostile to its investigation, impeding Swan at every juncture. As Swan battles on uncovering corruption, drug dealing and civic sanctioned child prostitution, he starts to shed light on the town's inherent racism and misogyny there appears to be no one in the town of any authority who is either black or female.
The film is a modern twist on the western genre: the lone lawman coming to town quietly determined to see right is done. It is the sort of role Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart all handled with ease 60 years ago. Aaron Pedersen is a worthy successor to these Hollywood greats, compelling in his restrained performance, giving just a hint of the angst beneath his calm exterior but always in control of himself. In the main, the supporting cast is also strong especially Hugo Weaving as a police officer of dubious integrity and an alluded to murky past.
Like all classic westerns the film's denouement is a good old-fashioned shoot-out. This extended scene is particularly well handled by Sen with tight direction and camera work although his cinematography throughout the film is praiseworthy.
The film has a few flaws. Early scene dialogue giving the backstory is rather stilted though this quickly settled down; the minor character of a buffoonish local newspaper reporter was both unconvincing and irrelevant it was as if Sen felt, wrongly, that his film needed a little comic relief. And I was surprised at the amount of drugs uncovered in such a very small town. I'm no expert but I'd have thought the quantity shown would be enough to supply the whole of Melbourne including its nearby rock festivals for a year.
Ultimately, many of the film's plot strands were left hanging which was, ostensibly, rather untidy. But on this, I'm giving Ivan Sen the benefit of the doubt. There was no neat resolution to his film or the crimes it depicts, because there is, as yet, no resolution to the social issues he raised in a non-preachy manner.
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