Review by PENNY MULVEY
There is something remarkably familiar about Ivan Sen’s latest cinematic masterpiece, Goldstone, and yet disturbingly strange.
Australian outback movies have been entertaining and horrifying audiences for many decades, but Sen brings a fresh perspective which presents the alien inhabitants, not the land itself, as the malevolent threat.
Like Sen’s predecessor movie Mystery Road (2013), Goldstone stars Aaron Pedersen as the silent and complex Indigenous detective Jay Swan. Filmed in the isolated outback town of Middletown in Queensland, with a population of 121, Sen lovingly captures the vast magnificence of the orange land and hidden rivers, inviting the audience to embrace its stark grandeur with equal awe. The rich hues of this ancient country are part of the sub text to this ‘outback noir’, as it is described in its promotional literature.
The fictional mining town of Goldstone is represented as a temporary new arrival, ill at ease with the seemingly barren desert on which it sits.
Every building, be it the police station, the mayor’s house, the offices and accommodation for the mining company and even the pub (with accompanying brothel) are portable, further reinforcing the stark divide between the traditional owners and the non-Indigenous usurpers.
Riveting Indigenous actor David Gulpilil makes an all too brief appearance as tribal elder, Tom E Lewis. Tom E knows the lands, the hidden entrance to the river, weaving in amongst soaring contoured rock formations, the pathways long-trodden by his people. He will not be tricked by the smooth words and financial incentives of the town leadership or the invading mining company.
Detective Swan has been sent to the small mining town of Goldstone in search of a missing girl. His life has fallen into disarray since the audience last saw him in Mystery Road. Gone is the professional, well-groomed detective, replaced by a heavy drinking, ill-kempt outsider (in classic Western style), who appears lost and absent.
The town’s mayor (Jacki Weaver) does not like strangers, especially those she cannot control and who might ask awkward questions and she quickly tries to warn Swan off.
Silence is one of the most powerful dialogue techniques of the film, again pointing towards the language of the environment which, when understood, can make words seem unnecessary.
Detective Swan is a man of very few words. He is at peace with the land. It poses no threat, instead the menace takes a human form, built upon power and corruption. In his encounters with the sweetly threatening mayor he barely speaks, but this does not mean the mayor does not understand his intent.
The young white local cop Josh (Alex Russell) finds it harder to interpret Swan’s silence. He soon learns that Swan has not been corrupted by his years on the force. This challenges his own policing, as he starts to reflect on how far he has fallen from the younger idealistic Josh who first entered the police force.
Goldstone is a gripping thriller, which covers some of the big issues of our nation – land rights, the environment, corporate and private greed, power and our ongoing complex relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. All the characters are flawed, and yet the underlying message is of optimism and hope, as the two policemen begin trusting each other, and Josh discovers that his actions and choices do make a difference.
Crosslight’s Emmet O’Cuana interviewed director, Ivan Sen, and Aaron Pederson when Mystery Road was released. To revisit, https://crosslight.org.au/2013/11/03/mystery-road-an-interview-with-ivan-sen-and-aaron-pedersen/