On Sunday evening, I thought to myself, We haven’t written many movie reviews this month, I should at least write either a Respectful Reel Review or a Not-so Respectful Reel Review before the close of our August Murders month. I like to keep our geekdom on the Mustache and the Beard balanced.
(I know; I know. I’m Obsessive Compulsive about the most inane things. Of course, I know that we still have planned a SCAR video on Knives Out and an Autopsy Plus video comparing the two Murder on the Orient Express feature films, but this weekend we’ve been dealing with a hurricane and it will be hanging around for at least another day.) We also want to talk about Sherlock.
In order to abate my discomfort, I decided to watch and review Mystery Road. I had not heard about this movie, but as I perused Amazon’s offers, I saw that this movie had the trappings of a murder mystery (a detective, a unique murder, red herrings, intrigue galore) and set in the Australian outback. I was immediately ensnared. So without further ado, my Respectful Reel Review of Mystery Road.
IMDB YEAR RELEASED:
Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tasma Walton, Bruce Spence, David Field, Samara Weaving
An indigenous detective from the Australian Outback returns home to investigate the murder of a young girl, only to find resistance and a racist lack of empathy in the cover-up that seems to be transpiring.
A trucker gets out of his truck with a pipe along a dirt road just before pulling over a bridge near Winton, Queensland. He uses the pipe to bang along the undercarriage for some reason. When he ceases what he’s doing, in the desert silence, he hears the sounds of a wild dog scavenging. He scares the dog away with his pipe and a flashlight he withdraws from his belt. As he illuminates under the bridge, we see the dead body of an Aboriginal teen girl.
The newly promoted Aboriginal Detective Jay Swan has returned from training in the big city. He’s been tasked with investigating the murder. At the scene, he quickly identifies the indigenous girl as Julie Mason. He’s familiar with the family who lives in a slum in Winton. During the course of his investigation, he finds out that Julie was an addict who would have sex with truck drivers.
When he attempts to speak with one of Julie’s friends, another indigenous girl from the neighborhood, Tarni Williams, she refuses to speak with him. A young boy from the slum tells Detective Jay Swan that he has Julie’s phone. Jay gives him some money and a look at his gun in exchange for the phone.
While Jay is checking the phone, he sees that there are several messages to his daughter, Crystal. He then proceeds to his ex-wife’s house. Mary and Crystal are a little less than enthused to see him, but he asks to talk to Crystal in his car. While in the car he tries to convince Crystal to come live with him in his big house. She gets out of the car without much response. Mary tells him that it’s a little late for him to try to become a father.
In returning to the scene of where Julie’s body was found, Jay notices that there is a farmhouse in the distance. There he meets Sam Bailey, the racist owner of the land, who doesn’t take too kindly to the questioning. Before Jay leaves he sees that a young man is getting his hunting truck prepared for an excursion.
Later, Jay learns that there is another indigenous girl missing. There seems to be little concern among his colleagues about a few young Aboriginal girls gone missing or killed and Jay begins to suspect that some other police officers may be involved.
As he goes out in the dead of night to watch the trucks go over the bridge, Jay sees a police vehicle stop at a suspicious building. Jay follows the police, but they detect that he’s been following them and get out of the car to talk to him. They have a “friendly” conversation, and proceed to go on their way.
When Detective Jay Swan decides to visit the motel where Julie would take her escorts, the attendant says that Julie had a regular named Smith who would drive up in a white hunting truck. He goes back to Bailey’s farm to speak to Smith, but Smith refuses to be cooperative. He even threatens Jay.
At the office, Jay tries to find background information on Smith, but there is no Smith. Smith is actually Pete Bailey, a troublemaker with a long history. His last arresting officer was a cop killed on the job, several months ago, and the plot thickens.
Mystery Road is a slow, plodding, police procedure type mystery with an interesting climax that really doesn’t seem to fit the story. (I use none of those words in their pejorative context.) The reality is that but for a couple of scenes, this movie would be perfect.
The beginning of the story is reminiscent of an unpretentious Agatha Christie. Throw in a dash of Louis Lamour western tropes and the flavors get even more interesting. The story beats are slow, but necessary. The setting is perfect and the cinematographer/editor, who is also the director, Ivan Sen, takes full advantage of the setting, slowly panning on the vistas that are stark in some places and lush in others. In a word, the setting is GORGEOUS.
The characters are shaped with minimal dialogue, facial expressions, and precise writing. When Detective Swan approaches his ex-wife for the first time, he flatters her with, “You look good, except for…” She has a bruise on her face, and her new man is sitting close by. “You know me. I can’t resist an argument.” She says it with an almost-smile on her face.
Hugo and Samara Weaving are not the stars of this movie, but their roles are perfect. Every actor plays their role with just a little more OOMPH! Adequate is not sufficient for what these actors do. Aaron Pedersen steals the movie and is, IMHO, brilliant. He is understated in his affect, a man of few words, avoiding conflict at every turn.
The music and sound design are so unobtrusive that you might actually ask yourself if there was anything noteworthy in the sound, but that too is purposeful. When the climax occurs it is completely unexpected and jarring. Even the denouement is anticlimactic. And, again, I would say that this word is not meant as a pejorative. I truly mean that this movie is almost perfect in its quietness.