Goldstone (2016) Film Review
The sequel to director Ivan Sen’s 2013 film, Mystery Road, Goldstone takes with it the quiet strength of the original while clearly taking new paths in terms of narrative and its depiction of Australian culture.
We are immediately confronted by a dishevelled Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), who has found himself in the town of Goldstone on the lookout for a missing Asian teenager. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the search for the missing girl unearths a whole spate of greed and corruption among the town’s mayoral office and a moneyed up mining company. Swan and his conflicted ally in local cop Josh (Alex Russell) are the only ones capable of restoring order to a fractured Goldstone.
Sen, who acts as the screenwriter, composer, cinematographer, and director of the film, really knows how to get the most out of what is a pretty standard tale of high-end human-trafficking, indifference, and criminality. The adaption of this familiar narrative is inherently elevated due to its observance of Australian hallmarks; the picturesque desolation of the outback, racial division, and unresolved conflicts. As a result, the screenplay really packs a punch where it perhaps would not have. It becomes something identifiable, particularly to an Australian audience, as we can acknowledge White Australia’s exploitation and utter disregard for racial minorities. Sen is perceptive to this, and aptly reminds us there is still a lot to do in the way of harmonising Australian culture.
Even though Goldstone focuses on the sexual exploitation of young Asian women, its layering of social issues is quite powerful. Its exploration of Australia’s enduring mistreatment of the First Australians is seamlessly woven into the overall narrative, as Goldstone’s Mayor, Maureen (Jacki Weaver), is interested only in acquiring their land for mining purposes. There is not a shred of respect shown to the First Australians by Maureen, or the mining industry, as represented by Johnny (David Wenham). Sen’s most provocative assault on racial subjugation comes in the form of a scene featuring Indigenous man Jimmy (David Gulpilil). The scene is uncompromising, and designed to make us as angry as Sen at the bygone and current treatment of the First Australians. Further, the many close-ups on Swan’s face display a man tired of his demanding work and his subjection to a netherworld of racial oblivion.
What the film toweringly succeeds in is making a connection between oppression and prospective economic gain. Josh is bribed early on by Johnny to ensure that he does not interfere with mining operations, and the human-trafficking of the Asian girls is solely motivated by money. Weaver is wonderful as the duplicitous Maureen; balancing her character’s sinister nature with a maternalistic façade to will Goldstone’s residents into thinking she is a harmless grandmother. Sen obviously refutes this, asserting that economic interests can quash our own sense of humanity. This thematic concern could not be more timely, as mining operations have been further dispossessing the First Australian’s of even more land.
Alex Russell’s performance as Josh is hit and miss. Russell’s attempt to play up Josh’s ignorance of Goldstone’s corruption can feel inauthentic, and he clearly comes out second best in his exchanges with Aaron Pedersen’s Swan. Once Josh wises up to the evils being perpetrated, Russell’s performance is a lot more effective. Pedersen carries on his great work from Mystery Road and his acting presence dominates every scene. This is notable, as Pedersen does not have the kind of screen time as he did in Goldstone’s predecessor. Wenham and Gupilil, who are both Australian cinematic mainstays, turn in performances that maintain the film’s core intensity.
Sen’s cinematography is again informed by the Australian landscape. Rather than go to great pains to manufacture individual shots, there is an artistic ease with which Sen chooses to capture the Queensland small-town. His use of the long shot is certainly a highlight, as it further adds to the visual style established early on in the film. The likewise plethora of overhead shots of diverging roads is striking; evoking in them a sense of George Miller’s Mad Max (1979).
In keeping with the noir style that Sen develops, there is a predominant focus on dialogue and the establishment of character and themes in the first two acts. The tension and moral outrage Sen intends us to feel is rife by the time of the film’s climax, which erupts on an explosive scale. By this time, we are right behind the protagonists, and the hostile engagement that unfolds is produced with great effect. The violence, of which there is a considerable amount, is kind of cathartic for us.
Sen’s second effort on Jay Swan’s story is compelling, as he takes with him the good bits and discards the bad ones from Mystery Road. This film is probably the closest thing we have as Australians to Polanski’s seminal 1974 film Chinatown, and it is about time that we pay attention to the merit of Australian cinema.
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