Friday, March 7, 2014

Film Review: Mystery Road

Copyright: Well Go USA Entertainment
Mystery Road is a beautifully shot minimalistic thriller, set in an unusual social context. Its main character is a police detective in a small town located somewhere in the Australian outback. Detective, called Jay Swan, is of aboriginal descent, just like a big part of the town’s population. One day, a trucker discovers a body of a local girl underneath a highway, and Jay is given the case. The murder investigation sends him into the dark underbelly of the community, where alcohol, drugs and lack of opportunity decimate the underprivileged.

The film develops very slowly, presenting the town one image at a time, with Jay (played by Aaron Pedersen) as the guide. He comes from the same group of people, but is now feared, ignored or openly loathed because of his decision to become a “copper”. At the same time, he is also personally invested in the community and his ex-wife and daughter still live there.

There is a lot of social commentary in this film on the state of the Aboriginal minority in contemporary Australian culture. Mystery Road doesn’t explore why or how did the situation become so deplorable for some, focusing instead on the presentation of the current state, especially in the younger parts of the population. In this unnamed town, desert isn’t just a part of the landscape; it is the landscape, periodically interrupted by lonely roads or cardboard and plywood houses. Inside of them, families fall apart and euthanized by substance abuse. The film doesn’t blame anyone for this state, but instead implies that things need to change before the desert, inside and outside, eats up everything.

The most important character in the film, apart from Jay is Johnno, another police officer on the force. He is played by the great Hugo Weaving and represents the polar opposite of the protagonist. While Jay is indigenous, transparent and determined to shoot straight, Johnno is of European ancestry, murky, and his motives aren’t clear, except for the part that he isn’t shooting straight even by a long shot. Gradually, the gravity of the case begins to pull them closer, and the danger of an imminent collision starts to grow on the audience. Yet, the film managed to stay true to its name and stays a mystery till the end.

In my mind, Mystery Road is in the same group as the brilliant Animal Kingdom. Director Ivan Sen applies a recognizable and unique thriller sensibility in Mystery Road and by doing that he creates a small neo-noir gem. I would like to think that this film is another example of a bigger trend of making fantastic, unorthodox works of cinematic art in Australia