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:: Mystery Road

When Australian director Ivan Sen made his recent film “Toomelah,” it divided audiences and critics alike. Some raved about the film and saw it as a valuable tool in showing the world just how hard life can be for Aboriginal people in Australia… a struggle that even the Australian Government fail to recognise at times. Then there were those that plain out hated “Toomelah," calling it a dull piece of cinema that would fail to inspire anyone.

Now Ivan Sen is set to release his new film, a murder mystery called “Mystery Road” that centers around young Aboriginal Police Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson – “Bad Karma,” “Jack Irish: Black Tide”) who after returning from the City back to the Outback finds himself having to investigate the murder of a young girl who is found beside a local highway.

Aside from having personal problems with his estranged partner, Mary Swan (Tasma Walton – “Dreamland,” “Blessed”) and their daughter, Jay soon finds the return home is also causing problems for his professional life. While Jay quickly has some suspects in mind including a local hunter (Ryan Kwanten – “Not Suitable For Children,” “Griff The Invisible”) and an unforgiving drug dealer (Damian Walshe-Howling – “Around The Block,” TV’s “The Time Of Our Lives”) he soon feels that his colleagues including the station’s unorthodox Detective (Hugo Weaving – “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “Cloud Atlas”) are working against him.

Sen once again uses “Mystery Road” to deliver a powerful message to Australians about the plight of the Aboriginal people in communities right across the nation, but sadly while this side of the film works remarkably well, the murder mystery element of the film does not. In fact, it’s that side of the story that is a real let down to the audience. It’s human nature to become invested in any crime story, but Sen’s screenplay becomes so convoluted at times that it is virtually impossible for the audience to keep track of who is who.

Sadly, by the time Sen gets Jay into a massive shootout, which does fit into the Western style in which he has shot this film, the audience has gone past caring about any of the characters. Even worse is the fact that at times during the shootout the audience can’t even work out who is who. Seeing
the storylines that the audience most want resolved are the ones revolving around the murder and also Jay repairing the relationship with his daughter, the whole shootout just seems to get in the way of more pressing issues. Another discredit to the film is also the fact that Sen’s writing just isn’t powerful enough to even make police corruption storyline stick either.

There are things that Sen gets right though. He uses the outback to make the film look good and he also gets the best out of his cast. Aaron Pederson is an absolute star in this film; he makes the character of Jay so likeable that the audience will soon find themselves wishing that this wasn’t just a one off film, and that it was instead a pilot for a television show. Hugo Weaving seems dangerously under-used in “Mystery Road,” while Damian Walshe-Howling and Tasma Walton do so well in their roles it’s a shame they don’t get onto the big screen more often.

“Mystery Road” could have been a great Australian murder mystery with a Western feel, but instead Sen’s script trips itself by trying to bring in too many characters and too many subplots. As a result, the murder mystery element of the film falls flat with a disappointing ending, which sadly also decreases the impact of its important message.