Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"This is psychogeography, a place outback and beyond, where licit and illicit and moral and immoral are buried in shades of grey."

A stranger rolls into town, looking for justice, and the local law want to keep the peace. It's an old story, but there are older ones. Outback, beyond, there's a mine. There's an aboriginal community. There's a town. The town has a mayor. "keep those waters nice and still", she says, but that's perhaps a vain hope. There's a lot of rock being moved. Rocks cause ripples.

Aaron Pederson returns as Detective Jay Swan, investigating a missing person. From such small seeds are larger stories grown, and as with Mystery Road the slow unfolding draws us deeper into something darker. Ivan Sen writes and directs again, and with the aid of his cast, his camera, creates something compelling, thrilling, born from the conflicts of modern Australia, rooted in older traditions filmic, folkloric.

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A stranger rolls into town. The local law is Josh, Alex Russell, younger seeming than he was even as a teenage struggling with superpowers in Chronicle. He's a long way from home, a long way from anywhere. There's not much to do. The Mayor takes care of the town, and the mine runs everything else. The former is Jacki Weaver, sweetness and strength, a Genghis in gingham. The latter is David Wenham, but the mine is a law unto itself. A muscular law, with authority for deadly force. A fence marking a line beyond civilisation, protecting a hole in the world. It's not the deepest wound in the community.

The cast is in a very particular way incredible, a mixture of faces that are familiar in a way that the faces of strangers rolling into town can be familiar. Weaver and Wenham have enough credits between them that it's unlikely you've not seen at least some of their work. David Gulpilil (The Proposition, among many, many others) as a community elder, Pei-Pei Cheng (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, among many, many others) is a - well, it would give things away. Aaron Fa'aoso, Kate Beahan, and Michelle Lim Davidson may be more familiar to television audiences, but in each of their performances exhibit very specific physicalities. This is psychogeography, a place outback and beyond, where licit and illicit and moral and immoral are buried in shades of grey.

Grey like the rock, riven by the rippling crack of mining explosives, revealing the rich mineral ore beneath. Goldstone. Though it's not the only colour - the endless orange of the desert, the infinite blue of the sky. The former often shot from the latter, the not quite trackless wastes. Roads along which strangers roll, into town. Thin cords of human endeavour slicing across the wilderness. Islands of activity, the cold light of industrial fluorescent, the pinks and reds and blues of neon demons. Sand, and water, and ghosts.

There is, perhaps, a deeper sense of the spiritual than in Mystery Road, of finding one's place in this, the old, the next worlds. This is a new town, but the same stranger. The song of the land is not so loud that everyone can hear it, and greed can be more insistent. Violence too. The land will kill you. It's not alone. A stranger rolls into town, and he's in possession of a rifle. The mine controls lethal force, but it doesn't all wear a uniform. A stranger rolls into town, investigating a missing person. There's a lot of rocks to look under. Rocks cause ripples.

Mystery Road is a film that I will watch whenever I discover that it's on. There's something to its laconic sensibility that grips me, draws me back. It feels like a novel does on the page, a constant drive to turn and see what's next, and oh, what visions - landscape as character, as indicator of character, as arena, and simmering always on the edge of a horizon more than a bullet's journey away, threat. Menace palpable, in glint of eye and sniper scope, and here again in Goldstone.

There are authors who create characters whose new stories are awaited eagerly, and Sen and Pederson's Detective Swan is one such. For fans (your reviewer included) it is a must. For those unfamiliar it's still to be seen. There's no requirement to have seen its preceding instalment, but it's recommended viewing as an entity of itself.

The western (oater, if we use the varietal argot) has oft been alleged to be a dying breed, but privation has made it leaner, stronger, bleaker. Cormac McCarthy deserves some credit, but he's not alone. No Country For Old Men has cousins, 600 Miles, even Sicario, but there's something about the additional questions Australia asks that makes these Southern Westerns stronger. It might be hybrid vigour, or wildly different evolutionary pressures towards the same niche. The bleach of sun means this is too bright to be straight noir, but there's an invigorating darkness. The mine may run the town, but the miners are not the only ones digging.

A stranger rolls into town. You should follow.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2017
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An indigenous detective arrives in a frontier town on the hunt for a missing person.

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