Indigenous Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) arrives in the frontier town of Goldstone on a missing persons enquiry. What seems like a simple light duties investigation opens a web of crime and corruption. Jay must pull his life together and bury his differences with young local cop Josh (Alex Russell), so together they can bring justice to Goldstone.
Review by Louise Keller:
The vast Australian desert is the star of Ivan Sen's latest film, an outback western whose interwoven themes include corruption, human trafficking, Aboriginal land rights and mysticism. The film's space and isolation is in part reminiscent of Sen's 2013 thriller, Mystery Road, and once again Aaron Pedersen imparts great presence as an outsider who is battling his own demons. To my mind, Mystery Road is the more complete film; Goldstone's plot feels less organic. Nonetheless, the film engages for the most part and David Gulpilil's cameo is one of its highlights.
After an effective sequence comprising sepier snapshots depicting the early life of the mining pioneer, the film hones in on the isolation of the setting: an evocative canvass of pink, ochre, taupe and dune. There is nothing romantic or ethereal however, in the way Josh (Alex Russell), the young local cop pursues the speeding vehicle with its intoxicated driver, Detective Jay Swan (Pedersen). This is the film's central relationship in which two flawed individuals struggle to find themselves. Josh is sinking deeper and deeper into the corruption of big business in the goldmines, while Jay becomes drawn to finding a connection with his Aboriginal roots and his spiritual side.
All roads lead to the wonderfully named Furnace Creek, where David Wenham's corrupt mine boss Johnny keeps bundles of $50 notes and beer at hand for bribes. Johnny is a vulgar creation and Wenham makes it stick. The story strand involving Asian women and trafficking has promise but does not satisfy with questions that remain unanswered. I like the idea of a monstrous Mayor with no scruples who bakes apple pies, but in the execution (as played by Jacki Weaver, wearing platinum wig and scarlet lips), it comes across as a construct. Not so, Gulpilil, whose Aboriginal elder Jimmy blends into the setting beautifully. He belongs in this landscape where the arid land extends as far as the eye can see and man and nature blend as one. The scene when Jimmy takes Jay by canoe into the gorge to show him ancient rock paintings is like venturing into a beautiful painting.
The commodity of truth is the intangible element pursued throughout - as bullets fly, dollars exchange hands and expectations are realised. The personal resolutions are the most effective and Sen uses aerial shots to offer different perspectives - as well as to accentuate the isolation and vast nature of the setting. The best thing about the film is the mood, which resonates throughout; Sen's stamp is firmly all over the film, as director, screenwriter, editor, cinematographer and composer. Goldstone was the Opening Night Film at the 2016 Sydney Film Festival.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As unruly, headstrong cops go, Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is up there with the best of them, but he's no Dirty Harry. Hard drinking Harry, maybe, sloshed when we meet him as he drives towards Goldstone and his destiny, pulled over by the young smalltown cop, Josh (Alex Russell) and put on the wire bed in the lock up to sober up. Pedersen's unkempt hair, bleary eyes and speechless stupor belie his steadfast determination to clear up the case of missing Mei. As we would hope...
Ivan Sen has become a mature and important filmmaker, making his films auteur-like, even shooting the pictures and composing the score. A touch of Robert Rodriguez, perhaps, down to the flinty stories of outback struggles for heroism. But Sen (or is it Ivan Zen) also injects a crucial element of Aboriginal cultural in a way that expands the texture of the story and imbues the film with its spiritual incense, much aided by a minimalist (and with minimal but memorable screen time) David Gulpilil as Jimmy the Elder.
Jimmy's silent but powerful influence on Jay propels him on his journey to reconnect with his ancestral spirituality, a sort of redemption.
Pedersen's apparent looseness within which his decency and morality are contained, contrasts well with the hard-assed Mayor from Jacki Weaver and the corrupt mining boyo, Johnny, from a slicked David Wenham. Excellent work, too, from Pei-Pei Cheng as Mrs Lao, who governs the fly in-fly out girls, the unwilling sex workers of the mining venture, and Michelle Lim Davidson as May, the trapped Chinese girl who is hoping to make more of her life. Alex Russell is excellent as the young no-nonsense cop keen to make a difference, and all the other supports make the most of their roles.
The story twines together the themes of exploitation versus care, of corruption versus honesty and of the past versus the present. Indeed, the film begins with a montage of archival black and white photos from goldfields in the 19th century, featuring Aborigines, Asians and whites, to frame the story within the reach of the past.
Sen uses the desert locations to great effect, from the stunning wind-worn canyons where a solo canoe is a riveting image to the empty flats, often seen as if from a stationary bird of prey high above a moving vehicle.
It's an effective, engaging film, avoiding the expected resolutions for a more authentic result, while engaging us in the issues of how we live together in this old land.
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CAST: Aaron Pedersen, David Wenham, Jacki Weaver, Alex Russell, Kate Beahan, Michael Dorman, David Gulpilil, Max Cullen, Tommy Lewis
PRODUCER: David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin
DIRECTOR: Ivan Sen
SCRIPT: Ivan Sen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ivan Sen
EDITOR: Ivan Sen
MUSIC: Ivan Sen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Matthew Putland
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 7, 2016