Director: Ivan Sen
Writer: Ivan Sen
Main Actors: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten
121 mins Australian. Thriller
At the beginning of Mystery Road, a truck driver stops by the roadside in atmospheric silhouette and, walking further into the darkness of the ominously titled ‘Massacre Creek’, finds the murdered corpse of a teenage Aboriginal girl. Finding the girl’s murderer becomes the first big case for indigenous Australian detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), freshly returned from a jaunt around the ‘big city’. But tracking down the killer within a small community where everyone knows everyone proves surprisingly tricky – not least because no one seems to want the crime solved, not even Swan’s fellow police colleagues. Are they really as understaffed as they make out, or are they part of some conspiracy involving the girl’s death? Or is it simply the case that, for them, life only matters when it’s white?
Mystery Road may be a sun-drenched noir in which an outsider works alone to try and solve a crime, but at its heart there lies some taut social observation. At times, Writer-Director-Editor-Cinematographer-Composer Ivan Sen cuts away as characters talk, showing us other people nearby going about their business. Sometimes these people return later in the story, sometimes not – but the effect is always an increase in texture. It’s at moments like these when the film is at its most interesting, when it feels like the nuances will build to a compelling whole. But, unfortunately, they never do.
In addition to its exploration of ingrained racism, there are flirtations with themes of time, memory and absence, but too often it feels like neither these themes, nor the police procedural plot, are enough to keep interest afloat. Things are buoyed along by some skewered humour, an off-kilter tone, and an excellent supporting performance from Hugo Weaving, but somehow, despite it all, the film simply feels a little too slight to sustain its two-hour runtime. It’s not so much that attention flags, but more that one starts to question the point – something not helped by the film’s unsatisfying conclusion. With a little more weight to balance our engagement, Mystery Road could perhaps have been great. But, as it is, I fear it may prove to be an enjoyable but all-too-forgettable experience. Alex Barrett.
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