Goldstone (CinefestOZ Film Festival)
Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Australian director (and writer, and editor, and composer), Ivan Sen, is back with another carefully-honed outback drama following up on 2013’s Mystery Road. The opening montage is beautiful, and it brilliantly lays down the groundwork for the main threads of the story. As the camera pans over sepia photos of a town in The Gold Rush era, we realise that the indigenous inhabitants and other groups like the Chinese have always been partially absorbed into the white man’s rapacious designs on the country.
We then get re-introduced to the lead of the contemporary story. This is Detective Jay Swan (the broodingly handsome Aaron Pederson reprising and re-invigorating the character that we first met in Mystery Road). Jay is a very flawed hero at the beginning of this yarn, weaving through the vast dusty landscape half-drunk behind the wheel of his beat up 4WD. There is then a “meet cute” when ambitious – and also flawed – local white cop, Josh (Alex Russell) pulls him over. It is not until he shoves the uncomplaining driver into the local lock up that he realises that Jay is also a cop. Jay is out there to track down a missing Chinese prostitute, but his journey, as it turns out, is not just towards justice in the White Man’s legal sense, but towards a spiritual re-awakening for himself. As suggested, Josh’s moral compass is also in need of some re-aligning. The whole shoddy little settlement seems horribly corrupted by mining money, from the easily-bribed indigenous land council members to the cynical mine manager (a wonderful turn from David Wenham). Presiding over this is the finger-in-every pie unnamed local mayor (Jacki Weaver). With her falsely-innocent big eyes and sinister lipstick, Weaver has fun playing the sort of part that she nailed in David Michod’s Animal Kingdom. Only local elder Jimmy (a dignified and important cameo from David Gulpilil) sees it for what it really is. “They all worship the same God” he says, “money God.”
Ivan Sen is typically smart to have such fine players in the bit parts as it leavens the whole project. This is important as there are sticking points. The film flags a little in the middle with too many inconsequential scenes. The labyrinthine plotting linked to this structure is a gesture to film noir, but a bit more action or tension would not have gone amiss. The prostitute-client elements could also have been better realised, but really these are small quibbles. The heart of the film is the complex partnership between Jay and Josh and, happily, the chemistry between Pederson and Russell is excellent. There is even talk of a sequel, but let us savour this one first.
Goldstone plays at The CinefestOZ Film Festival, which runs from August 24-28. To buy tickets to Goldstone, head to the official site.