Mystery Road (2013)

Mystery Road
Director: Ivan Sen
Writer: Ivan Sen
Cast: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson, Tony Barry, Robert Mammone, Tasma Walton, Damian Walshe-Howling, David Field, Bruce Spence, Jack Charles, Tricia Whitton, Samara Weaving
Part of: We Are One Film Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2020

Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returned to his hometown in the Outback just in time to investigate the murder of a young native girl – a murder the white rest of the police force doesn’t seem too interested in. Jay soon starts to suspect that the lack of interest may actually be active hampering from his colleagues, let alone the people around who all saw, heard and know nothing. Including Jay’s own daughter (Tricia Whitton) who doesn’t want anything to do with her father, but who knew the victim.

Mystery Road is atmospheric and Pedersen is a great lead, but I constantly felt like I was missing some context to understand what the fuck was actually happening. While that can make the appeal of a film, in this case, it was completely frustrating for me.

The film poster showing a lone car on a dirt road and the heads of three of the main characters.

The plot of Mystery Road is not overly complicated, and the lone wolf protagonist is something we’ve seen a lot – although rarely with the racial connotations it has here: as the only Native cop, Jay is both ostracized by the Native community and by the white police force. That he actually cares about the dead girl everybody else would rather forget, doesn’t help either. That he seems to care more about the dead girl than about his own daughter adds an interesting layer to him as a character that keeps him from being portrayed in too heroic a fashion.

But I found myself scratching my head more than once. Maybe I was just missing some cultural context, as I’m not Australian, for some of the implications, but I think it was a little more than that. I still don’t understand how we go from the antagonistic, tense dialogue between Jay and Johnno to that last act.

Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) aiming his gun.

That the film still worked for me and kept me interested despite my frustrations is due to its politics that openly confronts racism, Pedersen’s wonderful performance as well as the fantastic cinematography. Together they create a great, sweltering atmosphere that really makes the film.

Johno (Hugo Weaving) aiming his gun.

Summarizing: if a political Australian crime Western sounds like your thing, this is definitely it.

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