Australian thrillers have a signature style as unique as the harsh and visually threatening landscapes that fill this ancient land. Outback colour palettes radiate red earth, golden deserts, and ochre gorges, and all is captured with majestic cinematography in Goldstone (2016) which opened this year’s Sydney Film Festival. As the sequel to the excellent Mystery Road (2013), it follows the same quest for redemption by an Indigenous detective who walks the thin blue line between his people and white folk, neither of whom want him. A blend of crime investigation and western-style adventure with quirky Aussie characters produces a hybrid thriller drama loaded with cultural messages as well as stylistic salutes to Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
The film is framed around three characters in an isolated outpost called Goldstone: Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen); recently appointed local cop Josh (Alex Russell); and crooked Mayor (Jackie Weaver). Jay is there on a missing person case that soon reveals a web of corruption involving the Mayor, a greedy environmentally hostile mining company, and a prostitution ring that traffics young Asian women. Overlaying the pursuit of legal justice is Jay’s deep need to find a place where he belongs and Josh’s need for self-respect. Appearances by David Gulpilil symbolise deep love of country, and a canoe ride into the viscerally pulsating heart of the nation is the visual highlight of the story. All the elements of a great film are on the table but it struggles with issues of narrative and character plausibility.
The acting and dialogue are more in the style of caricature than authentic characterisation and the film’s portrayal of police operations challenges popular belief. Sweet, dimpled-faced Josh makes an unlikely tough cop, the Mayor is a parody of a crook, and the angst-ridden alcoholic Jay would not make detective anywhere in this country. The film asks us to suspend our understanding of legal process and see it as OK for a cop to be in control of a vehicle while rotten drunk, use lethal force without authorisation, do reckless vehicle pursuits and smash ups, and race into hostage scenarios with shotguns blazing near inhabited dwellings. The addition of Mad Max-style action and Priscilla-style parody creates tension between the film’s inner logic with the outside world which acts against it being taken as serious drama. Whatever faults it may have, Goldstone is a brilliantly photographed and entertaining crime thriller that foregrounds the spectacular Australian outback and pays respect to its ancestral heritage.
Director: Ivan Sen
Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jackie Weaver