GOLDSTONE. Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham, and David Gulpilil. Also starring Michelle Lim Davidson, and Michael Dorman. Directed by Ivan Sen. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language). 110 min.
This is a very powerful film, that explores cultural and political issues in outback Australia, and it confronts the morality of personal decision-making by communicating its challenges in tense thriller mode. Ivan Sen's last thriller movie, "Mystery Road" was set in outback Queensland, and was one of the best Australian movies of 2013. This movie continues the same themes, and was shot west of Winton in Queensland. The movie was chosen to open the 2016 Sydney Film Festival, as "Mystery Road" did in 2013. This is the second movie by Sen that features the same character, Indigenous detective, Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen).
Swan arrives in a fictional outback Australian mining town of Goldstone, with a seemingly simple mission to find a Chinese girl, who has gone missing. As Swan enters the town, he encounters Josh (Alex Russell), the local policeman, who arrests him for drink driving, but when Swan's motel room is later blasted by gunfire, it is clear that there are bigger issues at stake. As in "Mystery Road", Swan's investigation quickly reveals a web of crime and corruption.
Sen is a film maker, who does everything he can to provide an integrated work. As in his 2013 film, he writes, directs, edits, photographs, and composes music for a film that he anchors dramatically to racial history and politics. His films establish artistic, cinematic opposition to mainstream Australia's pretence of "openness" to Indigenous customs, and beliefs.
The movie is essentially about morality and relationships in a "collision of cultures" characterised by fraudulent deceit. Swan finds corruption in the mining industry, in the town, on the local Aboriginal land council, and his investigation uncovers evidence of trafficking of young Chinese prostitutes. The movie develops the theme that Indigenous people face corruption wherever they turn, and it argues forcefully in a thought-provoking way, that potential conflict will be perpetuated while justice is being legislated by white man's law. For Sen, that means conflict can occur at every level.
Acting in the film is outstanding. Aaron Pedersen is as compelling as he was in "Mystery Road", and Alex Russell is excellent as the young, resident policeman. Jackie Weaver is wonderful as the schemingly sweet, vicious mayor of the town, who loves both baking cakes and David Wenham, the immoral boss of the town's mining company. David Gulpilil takes the part of Jimmy, an Indigenous Elder, who pays a tragic price for behaving honourably.
This film explores the themes of racism, deceit and greed at multiple levels - thoughtfully, and powerfully. The people of Goldstone are victims of the culture they have either created, or permitted to continue. This is a moral movie that supports unequivocally fair and equal treatment for white, black and Chinese Australia. In multi-layered fashion, it tries to change attitudes and behaviour in a taut thriller format. The film is scripted sparingly, and it builds up excellent tension. It is also beautifully photographed. Camerawork, that includes drone photography, records rugged landscapes surrounding an isolated community, and the harsh environment provides a stark background for reflecting conflicts and biases that are politically, morally, and culturally meaningful.
Ivan Sen is a very talented and creative Indigenous Director, who in "Goldstone" has important things to say. He brings a distinctive artistic vision to his work, and he once again owns his film. He confronts Australia by analysing significant problems that stem both from its past, and its present.
This is a movie that should not be missed.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released June 30th., 2016