DIR/WRI: Ivan Sen • PRO: David Jowsey • DOP/ED/MUS: Ivan Sen • DES: Matthew Putland CAST: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving
There is nothing mysterious about Mystery Road, a flaccid Aussie thriller directed by Ivan Sen. It’s a long road with plenty of speed bumps to ensure a slow and rigorous ride. It touches on the issue of racial tensions between the Aboriginal and white peoples of a small town in Queensland, but is delivered as a western/ film noir genre piece. The scope and range established in the photography might go as far as the eyes can see, but we wish the characters and there monotonous dialogue could be too.
The film opens with the discovery of a young aboriginal girl’s body in a small tunnel just outside of Winton, Queensland. This primary police scene investigation is completely lifted from Bong Joon-Ho’s South Korean masterpiece Memories of Murder, everything from the tied up female corpse, to the crawling bugs, to the covering up of footprints.
Unlike Memories of Murder, we are not brought on a police investigation rollercoaster, but we are subdued to a slow-burner murder mystery. Slow-burner is right! Neanderthal’s spark fires faster than this. Aboriginal detective, Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) is on the case after returning back to his hometown from working years in a big city. He is left to his own devices in order to solve the murder because the predominately white police force has more important cases to crack than investigating an aboriginal’s murder.
Jay is portrayed as a man’s man, a real cowboy with no emotion to express. So the Duke from down under begins to dissect his community in search for leads and through his journey we begin to notice the racial tensions between the whites and aboriginals, which seems to be pretty biased towards the aboriginals (Spike Lee must have crashed a rehearsal during pre production).
“I’ve been in the middle my whole life”, Jay points out at one stage. He is under utilized by the police force and scrutinized by the aboriginals. The generic characters wouldn’t be so bad if they had anything interesting to say. In scenes that should have evoked great tension through dialogue, I found myself unconvinced and secured safely in my seat due to the tame threats. We’ve seen all this before countless of times in genre cinema, but the slow pacing of scenes really gives us time to remember.
Here lies an unrequited solution: The fact that this is a film with an undercurrent of social and racial issues, complemented by the slow and serious tone of the narrative, it should allow more room for character development. If there were more action and suspense set pieces we wouldn’t feel so unfulfilled by the end. Jay’s laconic stature would be great in a visceral action thriller, but his presence here causes scenes to drag achingly.
By the time we finally reach the climatic shootout between Jay and the criminals, it feels too regimented to conjure up any real excitement. I feel that Ivan Sen’s outback thriller is far too ambitious, certainly when I noticed that he directed, wrote, photographed and scored the film himself. It could have been the absence of collaboration, which caused Mystery Road to feel slightly unbalanced. In cinema you’ve got your great movies and your terrible movies. A movie that is bad can be a guilty pleasure or comical, something about it causes it to be etched in your memory. This little doozy is simply forgettable, a picture that got lost somewheres down the road.
Mystery Road is released 29th August 2014