Mystery Road (London Film Festival 2013)
The opening scene of Mystery Road takes place in Massacre Creek. There’s also a real sign labelled Mystery Road. While it doesn’t go as far as having Exposition Lane or Surprise Twist Avenue, Mystery Road is a crime thriller with an eye on style – or, to be more accurate, its absence.
Set in rural Australia, Aaron Pedersen stars as an Aboriginal policeman returning to a town plagued with crime, racism and apathy. The drama begins with the dead body of a young girl, possibly involved with drugs and prostitution, which sets Pedersen on a slow murder mystery.
Yes, it is really slow. But that’s partly the point. Every scene follows Pedersen wandering the empty area, hunting for clues and interrogating locals. There isn’t the hard wit of Chinatown, nor the raw masculinity of an old Western. Instead, the soundtrack is largely nature in the background; buzzing flies accompany tense meetings, and a foot chase occurs to the sound of clucking chickens.
The director, Ivan Sen, finds further use for the surroundings with the vast space that builds an impending sense of hopelessness for Pedersen’s mission. However, this critical compliment is more about Australia itself than Sen’s film-making abilities. His script is as barren as the landscape, which obviously doesn’t hold the same effect.
Pedersen is a strangely bland protagonist; he’s well -meaning, inexpressive, and one of the least charismatic detectives in recent memory. His lone stance builds from his background; his fellow Aborigines resent him for “arresting [his] own”, while colleagues look down upon him. It’s an intriguing isolation not fully explored, and isn’t helped when the supporting cast (including Hugo Weaving and Ryan Kwanten) are similarly unmemorable.
Mystery Road isn’t a disaster. Nor does it advance with its social commentary or anti-Westerns slant (other than a lengthy, breathtaking gun battle). Really, the main shame is it doesn’t build on the promise of a dusty noir.
Mystery Road is the gala screening of the London Film Festival’s “Thrill” strand. More information can be found here.
122 mins approx