DVD Mystery Road

DVD Mystery Road
DVD Mystery Road

Run time: 112 min
Rating: 6.5
Genres: Mystery | Thriller
Director: Ivan Sen
Writers: Ivan Sen
Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten
In an outback town, Jay Swan, an Indigenous cowboy detective, returns home to solve the murder of a teenage Indigenous girl whose body is found under the highway trucking route out of town. Jay is alienated from both the white-dominated police force and the Indigenous community, including his teenage daughter, whom he discovers is connected to the murdered girl. Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, and Tasma Walton, MYSTERY ROAD is a gripping murder mystery with a cultural perspective. Written by Anonymous
Country: Australia
Release Date: 29 August 2014 (UK)


  1. "Mystery Road" is a thriller (with film noir overtones) and a western rolled into one. It examines race relations in modern-day Australia, in particular those between the indigenous Aboriginal population and those Australians of European descent. It does so through the eyes of Aboriginal detective Joe Swan (Aaron Pedersen), who returns after a period of 10 years away to the remote small Australian town in which his daughter Crystal (Tricia Whitton) and her mother – Swan's estranged wife, Mary (Tasma Walton) – live. Swan is immediately thrown into the investigation of the murder of a teenage Aboriginal girl, whose body has been discovered in the outskirts of the town. His investigations soon yield a great deal of uncomfortable information, including police corruption, sexual exploitation and the possible involvement in the crime of his ex-wife and daughter (as well as sundry other local residents). The laconic detective has to contend with a complete lack of co-operation from his police colleagues and from the town's residents, who view any form of authority with suspicion and utter disdain. It all leads to a closing shoot-out sequence that is, for once, realistic and which is beautifully filmed. Indeed, one of the film's many strong points is its direction (by screenplay writer Ivan Sen). The cinematography (for which Sen is also responsible) is amazingly good – just about the best I have seen in any film. The cast too are terrific, particularly Pedersen and Hugo Weaving (who plays Johnno, a possibly corrupt white police colleague of Swan's). The only aspect of the film about which I have reservations is the plot, which does not seem to me to hang together. I may have missed something but there appear to be unexplained gaps in parts of the story. Other than that, "Mystery Road", which starts slowly before gradually building up to its dramatic conclusion, is an almost faultless film – and is certainly one that is worth looking out for. 8/10.

  2. As usual with most Australian films, the story line is very different. The casualness of the style with the weight of the film being presented by the vision, missed telling me what was happening a couple of times. Left the cinema still answering the questions asked. Did feel I needed a bit more in the way of answers given to me though. Acting was excellent , very quickly lost my expectation of known characters roles & embraced the new story rapidly. The structure of town, people & their lives were simply & beautifully presented. The use of aerials helped cement characters & culture of small outback town wonderfully, as did the simple style of presenting different cultural landscapes within the one time. Great movie, will be watching again

  3. There is much to commend in this outback-set crime drama from director, writer and cinematographer, Ivan Sen.

    The first scene sets up the whole film most deftly: its depiction of the magnitude of the land at sunset coupled with the place name, Massacre Creek, instantly makes it clear that the vastness of the Australian terrain and inglorious, largely unrepented historic events will frame what follows.

    Aaron Pedersen plays the police detective Jay Swan, an Aboriginal returning from 'the city' to his small and extremely isolated home town after a 10 year absence. He is estranged from both his former wife, now an alcoholic making a hash of raising their daughter, and also the community in which he was raised. Not fully accepted by the white community either, he is the classic outsider forced to go it alone.

    Swan is assigned to the case of a murdered Aboriginal teenage girl whose body is found in a state of some decay quite some time after her violent end. It probably won't come as a great shock to find that the rest of the local constabulary, all white and male, are not only indifferent to the crime but hostile to its investigation, impeding Swan at every juncture. As Swan battles on uncovering corruption, drug dealing and civic sanctioned child prostitution, he starts to shed light on the town's inherent racism and misogyny – there appears to be no one in the town of any authority who is either black or female.

    The film is a modern twist on the western genre: the lone lawman coming to town quietly determined to see right is done. It is the sort of role Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart all handled with ease 60 years ago. Aaron Pedersen is a worthy successor to these Hollywood greats, compelling in his restrained performance, giving just a hint of the angst beneath his calm exterior but always in control of himself. In the main, the supporting cast is also strong – especially Hugo Weaving as a police officer of dubious integrity and an alluded to murky past.

    Like all classic westerns the film's denouement is a good old-fashioned shoot-out. This extended scene is particularly well handled by Sen with tight direction and camera work – although his cinematography throughout the film is praiseworthy.

    The film has a few flaws. Early scene dialogue giving the backstory is rather stilted – though this quickly settled down; the minor character of a buffoonish local newspaper reporter was both unconvincing and irrelevant – it was as if Sen felt, wrongly, that his film needed a little comic relief. And I was surprised at the amount of drugs uncovered in such a very small town. I'm no expert but I'd have thought the quantity shown would be enough to supply the whole of Melbourne – including its nearby rock festivals – for a year.

    Ultimately, many of the film's plot strands were left hanging which was, ostensibly, rather untidy. But on this, I'm giving Ivan Sen the benefit of the doubt. There was no neat resolution to his film or the crimes it depicts, because there is, as yet, no resolution to the social issues he raised in a non-preachy manner.

  4. "Cactus" is a film set in outback Australia with excellent actors, impressive cinematography and insufficient tension to sustain its sparse and obscure narrative over the course of its running time. I've been noticing that malady afflicting US television series such as "Dome" of late. No tension – no viewer involvement. No viewer involvement – an unsatisfying, empty experience. Tension. That's the sort of thing the English playwright, Harold Pinter could deliver in bucket loads with just a few characters and claustrophobically small settings in his early plays, such as "The Birthday Party"

    "Mystery Road" is not edge of the seat, scary movie stuff either, but it involves the viewers intellect and emotions by allowing them to share in the aboriginal detective hero's quest as he works out how and why an Aboriginal teenage girl has been murdered. It seems a car containing drugs produced at the local drug laboratory has been stolen. Elements of the local police force have a "relationship" with the drug lab proprietors. A bikie gang also seems to be involved. The thief is a local drug dealer/police informer who is owed "favors" by some of the wilder, young, local aboriginal girls. He has arranged with one of them to hold the drugs for him until the fuss over their "disappearance" has died down. But which girl? It seems the likely suspects are being murdered with a view to scaring the girl with the drugs into returning them and facing the consequences. The hero detective finally discovers the whereabouts of the drugs, and the identity of the girl who has hidden them. He realizes the only solution is to return the drugs himself. The murderous lack of gratitude of their 'rightful' owners leads to the brilliantly staged final shootout.

    The discovery of what has happened to the drugs involves digging through the layers of different cultural milieus involved in their disappearance. In the process it says much about how those different milieus usually co-exist and what happens when they collide with each other. It is that collision that culminate in a shoot out worthy of a Sam Peckinpah movie at the end of the film. But this is no cheap and vulgar genre knock off

    The cinematography seems to emerge from the paintings of Russell Drysdale. The final shoot out could be an updating of Tom Roberts' painting, 'In a corner on the Macintyre' 1895. Up there on the big screen for all to see is the undeniably horrible Australian architectural ugliness of a country town. This aesthetic hell hole of prefabricated housing has been plonked down in starkly beautiful, aeons old, dry and dusty countryside. The overhead shots of the town that recur throughout the film frame this ugliness in all its intellectually, emotionally and spiritually deprived, "Wasteland" emptiness.

    The actors are drawn from the cream of Australian screen thespians. Aaron Pedersen delivers a thoughtful and quietly compelling performance as the hero detective. The other actors have done their time on quality Australian crime mini series such as Underbelly (as well as the usual breakfast cereal advertisements). The ethnic make up of the Australian population has undergone a dramatic change in the last fifty years, but these actors depict the pre-1970's White Australia Policy Eurocentric Australia that can still be found in country towns ( even those with Chinese restaurants) as authentically as any you will ever see.

    The script, and that is where the necessary tension has its genesis, is so much better than the usual fare that makes its way to the screen. It has the authority and presence to deliver a riveting story, but poses an underlying question in a quietly understated but compelling manner.

    That question is, "How much worse could things be if all drug taking was decriminalized? "

    The film depicts the corruption that the unworkable drug laws have wrought among police forces around the world. The film depicts the hopelessness of people being turned into criminals merely because they turn to drug abuse to relieve the boredom of their empty lives. The film depicts the easy money available to psychopaths, sociopaths and plain, old fashioned lawless thugs who can gain instant riches from flouting the unworkable drug laws.

    I was underwhelmed by director Ivan Sen's, "Beneath Clouds", but this effort marks him out as an undeniably gifted film maker. If the film, "Chopper" could galvanize the Hollywood money guys into putting Andrew Dominik and Eric Banna onto their "A" lists, "Mystery Road" should do the same for director Ivan Sen and lead actor Aaron Pedersen

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