In an outback town, Jay Swan, an Indigenous cowboy detective, returns home to solve the murder of a teenage Indigenous girl whose body is found under the highway trucking route out of town. Jay is alienated from both the white-dominated police force and the Indigenous community, including his teenage daughter, whom he discovers is connected to the murdered girl. Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, and Tasma Walton, MYSTERY ROAD is a gripping murder mystery with a cultural perspective.Written by
Tom Clift of FILMINK called Mystery Road a "masterfully executed slice of storytelling that rates as one of our finest films of the past few years." See more »
At the beginning, the little girl's body changes position. When the trucker finds her, her lips are slightly apart, but when the police examine her body, he lips are closed. See more »
Detective Jay Swan:
[waking to answer the phone]
Yeah? Alright. OK...
[rolls out of bed]
[greeting his arrival on scene]
Detective Jay Swan:
G'day, Robbo. What's the story?
The truckie pulled up to check his trailers, heard a wild dog growling from under the bridge, smelt something rotten.
Detective Jay Swan:
How did he know it was a wild dog?
Guess he just knows the difference, I suppose. You know, between a wild dog and a wild kind of normal dog.
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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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