Mystery Road, the latest film by renowned Indigenous film maker Ivan Sen, is a distinctly Australian Western murder mystery. Having been caught in the middle all his life, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) has become very resilient. When he returns to the country town where he had grown up, Jay is regarded with suspicion by the Aboriginal community, including his ex-wife Mary (Tasma Walton) and teenage daughter Crystal (Tricia Whitton). “We hate coppers, bro”, a former mate tells him. The predominantly white police force, led by hard drinking Sarge (Tony Barry) treat him with a rather patronising degree of bemusement. Local farmer, Mr Bailey (David Field), exemplifies how most townspeople view Jay by asking him “are you a real copper, or one of those black trackers who turns on his own kind?”
When he discovers the murdered remains of one of his daughter’s friends, Jay’s determination to find the killer is clearly personal. His former neighbourhood has become a veritable war zone, with kids “going round on the gear, going schizo”, and the parents ineffective in their attempts to control them. Jay learns that the murdered girl, Julie, has “been with a few truckies for drugs”. When another girl is found murdered, Jay’s investigation takes on a note of desperation.
Although the enigmatic Johnno (Hugo Weaving), a drug squad cop in town doing some intelligence work, warns him off, Jay is determined to find out who is bringing in the drugs that are tearing apart the community. Sen deftly plants seeds of doubt about the integrity of Johnno, the Sarge and the other cops, as well as surly Mr Bailey and his shifty roo-shooter son (Ryan Qwanten). Tension rises further when Mary’s house is trashed. The final shoot out at Slaughter Hill is as good as any classic Western.
With a stellar supporting cast headed by Jack Charles, Jack Thompson, Bruce Spence and Roy Billing, Mystery Road is laced with laconic, quintessentially Australian humour. Watch out for Zoe Carides’ cameo appearance as Shirley, proprietress of the Dusk til Dawn Motel, an establishment that makes the Bates Motel in Psycho seem welcoming.
Shot in Winton, a small town deep in Northern Queensland, Mystery Road looks stunning. Not only is the surrounding countryside ruggedly beautiful, but all the locations within the town present a detailed picture of the characters and the problems facing their community.
Not to be missed.