A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere, or so the saying goes. And although they’d probably be too scared to admit it, the residents of Goldstone would, if pressed, have to agree.
Those who saw Mystery Road, Aussie director Ivan Sen’s indigenous genre picture from a few years back, will find themselves treading quite familiar ground with this spiritual (read: sort of) sequel. Once again we meet Det. Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) by the side of a dusty, desolate highway in the outback. Only this time he’s not the clean-cut bobby we remember, but an alcoholic – his appearance scraggly, and his words slurred – pulled over by a fresh-faced local copper (Alex Russell), having been caught driving under the influence.
Swan, as it transpires, has arrived in the titular frontier town to follow up on a missing persons case from his past, which remains unsolved. But as his investigation slowly develops, it soon reveals a web of crime and corruption that appears to be connected to the sickly-looking supervisor (David Wenham, his pasty complexion replete with a shorts/socks combo so shocking it’s scary) of the local Furnace Creek mine, and his relationship with the town’s crooked mayor (Jacki Weaver, deliciously nasty).It’s impossible not to admire Sen. He’s effectively a one-man film crew, ensuring he retains complete control of his own unique vision by assuming the roles of director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor… oh, and he also composes the score. His style is suffused with a heady potency that imbues the classic western aesthetic with a noirish tinge; the glaring colour arrangement giving greater emphasis to the baron, chalky backdrops Sen shoots with a drone-mounted camera – heightening, literally, the sense of seclusion; the musical embellishments, tingling with an intensity that further elevates the growing unease.
While arguably a more rounded film than Mystery Road, Goldstone suffers the same frustrations though. As he did before, Sen regularly appears to be wrestling with his own ideas, and perpetually unsure of his creative intentions – is he making a thriller, or a think piece; the script seems content with veering wildly between the two. Opening images of the gold rush gear more towards the latter; the collective attitude of the Goldstone community towards its aboriginal population, confronting the social stigmas of racism and segregation still rife within the Australia of today. But sadly, never is such topical exploration given enough concentration to leave one with a strong impression.
As a punchy police procedural it fails to fare much better, with a surprising lack of filmmaking ferocity and no clearly defined antagonist – neither Wenham, nor Weaver, are afforded enough screen time to have a lasting impact – suffocating the suspense. It may be true that a lot can happen in the middle of nowhere, but there just isn’t enough here that’s worth shouting about.