The US is not the only country in the world that has a problem with race relations between European interlopers and the indigenous people of the place they invaded. Australia has the same problems, and when a native person goes rogue by taking a power job with the European Australians, he tends to catch a lot of grief from both groups.
Jay Swan scowls all the time, speaks softly and seldom, and takes crap from everyone he runs into or questions. When a murdered young indigenous girl is left sitting pretty in a drainage ditch on Mystery Road, Jay picks up the case because it’s low priority and he’s “one of them” anyway . He does this without help from the other detectives, and with derision and stonewalling from the native people he’s trying to help.
Mystery Road is a leisurely film that moves from one dusty, isolated space or set to another. This part of Australia is flat and dusty except for a few isolated, dusty hills and I learned that poor neighborhoods look about the same everywhere. I also learned that asshole detective sergeants look the same everywhere, and that rural Australian police stations seem to all look like they came from the set of Mad Max.
Jay very slowly digs into a crime that turns out to be part of a much larger problem, and realizes that someone has discovered the joy of killing poor, young indigenous prostitutes. Ones about the same age as his estranged daughter who was friends with two of the victims. Swan is methodical and unrelenting and has a great incentive, and it’s easy to be drawn into the search that goes deeper and deeper. Some people turn out to be not as they first appear, and the sense of menace grows as and surely as his investigation.
The director makes poor neighborhoods and dusty outback look interesting and sometimes gorgeous. He also does a good job with the young people who were hired because they’re indigenous, not actors. The end of the movie is totally without dialogue for the last ten minutes and I didn’t even notice till listening to the featurettes. I liked the writing for the even pace of Jay’s investigation, the fascinating look at Australian stereotypes, a nice bit of misdirection that adds deepness to the story without being irritating, and showing racial imbalances and antagonisms in an organic way without being over the top preachy. My only problem was sometimes I couldn’t understand the dialogue because of strong accents so I had to turn on the subtitles, which was sometimes distracting.
Acting throughout is strong, especially heartthrob Aaron Pedersen as Detective Swan and Hugo Weaving as Johnno, a fellow detective. I didn’t recognize Weaving for a long time because I’m used to seeing him in a dress in Australia.
I enjoyed watching this movie and if you’re looking for a quiet and powerful mystery you should definitely check it out. The last ten minutes may not have had dialogue but it’s so good I won’t soon forget it. There’s a tv series also starring Pedersen, but I haven’t see it. If it’s anywhere as good as the movie I’m sure I’d enjoy it.
Mystery Road Trailer
CFR: In Addition: OMG! Hubby and I started watching the TV series and liked it but I felt I was missing some information. So going to watch this now. Also there is a sequel movie to this that takes place before the series called Goldstone.