Mystery Road (2013) – Review

Directed by Ivan Sen
Written by Ivan Sen
Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving
An indigenous detective returns to the Outback to investigate the murder of a young girl.

It felt like longer. It was already two hours long to begin with, but with the ‘no worries, laid-back until you’re nearly tipping over backwards’ attitude portrayed by the characters, as directed by Ivan Sen, it seemed like the film was never going to get to its finale, which by the time you’re an hour in, you’re probably praying will be at least a bit climactic, if possible.

Sen really doesn’t like to rush. Caught in a bubble of heat and lethargy in the Australian outback, things just don’t seem to get done in any kind of a hurry, so when the body of a young girl is found in a sewage pipe under the road by a passing trucker, you’ll not be surprised by the lack of impetus to get the crime solved.

This isn’t a Foster’s advert, however, and there is more to this standoff-ish approach to law enforcement than at first appears and as Detective Jay Swan (Pedersen) will soon discover, there is more to this untimely death of one of his daughters’ friends than meets the eye.

Met with responses from his colleagues varying from nervous ambivalence to actual threats to not look quite so hard into events as he might naturally expect to do in the course of his job, Swan then proceeds to interview seemingly every hick local he comes across, some of which have more to say than others about events that had somehow previously eluded the detective, who seems a little too green around the gills, even if he has just returned after some time away from this sweltering nowhere-land, the home of his ex-wife and daughter.

Sen clearly loves the vistas as we afforded more than our fair share of dustbowl and farm-scrub and some of the cinematography is quite breathtaking yet the amount of time he expends on seemingly pointless exposition becomes tiresome before too long, only making this whodunnit all the more laborious. His characters are not well rounded in the main and he leaves little for the audience to really get their teeth into, apart from to try and work out who and why, but even if you do, you’ll likely not care too much about the outcome as the characters are faceless and ten-a-penny stereotypes that we all know well enough already.

There is an over-riding sense of menace and danger throughout the admittedly admirable script, even if much of it is superfluous to the plot. Pedersen’s performance in the main role is well delivered and impressive, in spite of the slow-burn frustration that you might feel throughout. The drip-fed clues are there but you need to concentrate if you’re going to get everything you might from the story and if you’re just a tad impatient, then you might have given up trying by the time the pearls and nuggets come knocking.

Altogether, an antipodean mystery that refuses to be rushed, with a collection of good performances that requires both attention and patience to be fully appreciated. If you don’t mind the brooding testosterone and the balmy late afternoon approach to police work, you might find this is right up your street. With so many half-visited characters, it doesn’t allow for much development for the cast and also leaves many a stone unturned with regard to side-plots that may have been investigated further.

Written for Flickering Myth


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