Wednesday, 13 July 2016


“Are you a cop? Sometimes.”

Ivan Sen has found recognition both at home in Australia and abroad, particularly with his features that draw on his Indigenous heritage; Beneath Clouds, Toomelah and Mystery Road. His latest feature, Goldstone is a sequel to the last of those and once again follows Indigenous Detective Jay Swan.

We open with a montage of sepia pictures from the gold rush as strings soar over the top. We see a society that’s divided by both race and class - a very deliberate foreshadowing to open the film. Many years later, we see Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) driving along an open road in a desolate outback. He’s pulled over by Josh (Alex Russell), the local cop from nearby town/roadstop Goldstone. Obviously drunk, Josh takes the detective into the precinct. Soon it becomes clear that Jay’s in Goldstone on federal business, to follow up on a missing persons report. However that is far from the only suspicious occurrence happening in this small desert outcrop, and soon Jay’s detective skills are put to the test.

I’d been looking forward to Goldstone for quite a while now, not just because it feels that we’re still in a quality film drought as we move into the second half of the year, but also because I appreciate great films that come out of our own industry. Goldstone looked to me to fit both those bills, but in the end I left decidedly underwhelmed. I think Ivan Sen is a talented writer/director and obviously has immense skills in other areas (more on that later) but unfortunately Goldstone falls into the familiar Australian crime/drama trap of overburdening the story with stereotyped characters. Be it the creepy mine manager with a bad haircut and outdated glasses who bribes his way through life with wads of $50 notes (David Wenham), the equally corrupt mayor who avoids suspicion with sweet talk and baked goods; “I’m just an old lady who likes to bake pies” (Jacki Weaver), or the redneck hermit who’s incapable of stringing a sentence together without a handful of f-bombs (Max Cullen). It’s difficult to take a film seriously when the lead - and Aaron Pedersen is extremely good - stands out like a sore thumb in a sea of caricatures.

The core elements of the plot, the missing persons inquiry and the prostitution ring, I thought were interesting and worked to flip some of the preconceptions people may have about the outback. However, its execution was a bit hit and miss. The conversations between May (Michelle Lim Davidson) and Josh were some of the best scenes in Goldstone and was where Sen’s dialogue peaked, however in other parts it had a tendency to fall into cliched phrases - as always, test this by seeing how many sentences you can finish. The other side-stories/happenings - as few as there were - just didn’t work as well, and there’s not much mystery involved either, just a constant tension. The story picks up speed in the final act but can’t make up for the up-and-down pacing that dominates the first part of the film.

Parts of Goldstone are helped along by the superb performances from Aaron Pederson and Alex Russell, with the relationship between the two cops one of the better takeaways from it. David Gulpilil also manages to do a lot with his relatively small screen time. However, you can’t escape the aforementioned stereotypes, and the ridiculous, pretentious portrayals from some of the supporting cast are really the worst parts of Goldstone, Jacki Weaver in particular. I normally really like her performances but her Mayor here just felt like a reincarnation of her homely psychopath ‘Smurf’ from Animal Kingdom, only on overdrive. Beyond that, the character actually just doesn’t feel like she fits in with the rest of the Goldstone community.

Others have suggested that Sen - who as usual also shot, edited and composed on top of his directorial duties - should have taken a step back and reeled in some of these issues, and perhaps we need to have a discussion about how much the multiple roles of filmmakers like Sen (Robert Rodriguez does a similar thing) actually affects the end result of their films. As an amateur filmmaker myself I can appreciate the desire to put your stamp on each part of the process, but that doesn’t rule out the process of collaboration. I also thought personally that whilst the film is very beautiful, there could be more done creatively with such a stunning backdrop, and perhaps a dedicated cinematographer could have given the film an extra edge - although of course the aesthetics are always subjective and what I might yearn for, could turn away other audience members.

If you’re a fan of Mystery Road, then Goldstone is probably worth checking out, and it’s far from a terrible film. It’s just not as exciting, not as moving, and not as mysterious as it could have been.

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