Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Directed by: #IvanSen
Film review by: Brian Penn
The Australian film industry has endured a chequered history but occasionally serves up a gem that ticks all the boxes. Mystery Road is an absorbing murder mystery that builds the tension with a patient and thoughtful narrative. In the Queensland outback a teenage girl is found dead under the main highway. Newly promoted Aboriginal detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the case.
He faces resistance from his own community and a mainly white police force seemingly unconcerned by the murder of an Aborigine girl. Sarge (Tony Barry) is chronically short of resources and tries to deflect Swan’s investigation. Drugs squad detective Johnno (Hugo Weaving) jealously guards his patch as their investigations begin to overlap. Like most cops on the big screen Swan also has a broken relationship behind him; ex Mary (Tasma Walton) has a drinking habit that reminds him too much of the past. He also fears that daughter Crystal (Tricia Whitton) is in some way connected with the victim as he slowly unpicks the truth.
Based on true events, Mystery Road is a remarkable piece of film making that doesn’t necessarily go for the jugular. No car chases or graphic violence are needed or relied upon; just the simple tale of a man trying to do the right thing and remain loyal to his kin. Director Ivan Sen has managed to create a very new style of Western; with characters sporting cowboy hats and the outback providing a stunning visual landscape, it bears comparison with classic Westerns made by John Ford. It does however fall headlong into the classic mantra that all films are 20 minutes too long. Nevertheless, it paints a compelling portrait of simmering tensions between the police and ethnic minorities. With the Black Lives Matter movement gathering pace the message has never carried greater resonance.