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Mystery Road

Film Three Stars
I've seen a few Australian thrillers in my time at the cinema and at festivals and it's been pretty much hit and miss, however I am a big fan of thrillers and the ideas being Mystery Road had me drawn to it. There was also another reason, the Australian film Red Hill was still fresh in my mind and that and with Ryan and Hugo Weaving in the cast it sounded very interesting.

Add to that the lure that this was going to include an aboriginal character for the lead, something we don't see very often. It all sounded very interesting and these should be reasons that you'll be finding yourself drawn to it too.

Plot.pngMysteryRoad.jpgAn indigenous detective returns to the Outback to investigate the murder of a young girl.

TheFilm.pngThe first thing you'll notice about the film is the cinematography. The opening titles are stylishly and refreshingly done with a wonderfully rich dawn sequence, opening with the trucker stopping on a deserted highway just as night gives into the creeping rising sun. With the title of the film and the name of the road appearing ominously across the sunrise, the opening does grab your attention immediately.

The cinematography doesn't quite stay this strong throughout the film but it does return again and again, it's visually engaging and provides for a rich backdrop against the broody thriller. The story soon takes centre stage being introduced quite quickly with the murdered aboriginal girl and the return to the area of a newly promoted Detective.

Political and social issues abound and we're not long into the film. You can sense the tension in the scenes even this early on as the Detective talks with another policeman at the crime scene and in a discussion with the Chief when he arrives. The film looks at Issues around race, the Aboriginal population and the hardship that faces small villages in the outback. These aspects do make up a strong core of the story but it doesn't ignore the main strength of the film which, at its heart, is a thriller. In fact these themes and threads just make the story richer and much stronger.

However as interesting as the mix of thriller and of a reflection of modern day Australia sound there are problems, and I mean with the film. While there are some interesting issues brought forward by the thread of the murdered girls it does feel as though it isn't properly developed. This appears to be one of the main driving threads of the thriller and yet it feels somewhat abandoned and come the end of the film far too easily and neatly resolved - just look at the evidence revealing scenes in the truck, it's all far too neat and convenient. It wasn't the convenience that was particularly annoying though, it was the lack of attention and progression that this thread had, only being referred to at key moments and then returned to in order to clear it all up.

This isn't a singular occurrence though and there are other areas where I felt that the flow of a story thread was stilted or missing sections, another example of this is the key thread later on in the story where the story leaps to the investigation of a murder of a policeman. Here I wondered why we had leapt to this thread from the girls and how they were connected, neither of which I felt I understood come the end of the film.

These threads and plot developments aren't small aspects of the film, they are key elements of the thriller and of the development of the story so they do have a fair impact on the film. If these moments had been developed more and the threads tied together to offer more of an understanding and progression for the audience then I do believe that this would have made for a far better film. It would have also brought the audience along with the thriller building our suspense and the tension.

Part of me does wonder if that perhaps the way the story played out is presenting how a real investigation would happen, twists would appear out of nowhere, key elements would just arrive, and other threads just die out. While that might be the case it doesn't quite work here for the audience.

It sounds like the film is packed full of plot development however it doesn't quite speed along that fast. The film is more of a slower paced and considered thriller with lots of visually engaging shots and expectant silences. In some places the film feels too slow and it does feel like there was plenty of space to expand the missing sections of the plot thread development mentioned earlier.

Despite all this I have to say that the thriller does work well and I was engaged by it, even despite these shortcomings. At times it reminded me of a classic western and others of a seventies conspiracy thriller which makes for a strong combination.

There are a few laughs in the script as well which work well when brought to the screen in context with the characters and the story. I did snigger at a few points in the film and that's mainly down to the script but it's also down to the leading actor Aaron Pedersen. Most of these are scripted but I wasn't sure if the first one was intended - the road sign and the trucker investigating in the darkness, classic "don't go into the cellar alone" material.

Pedersen is very good in his role though and his character and situation is an intriguing one. I'd definitely want to see more of him and felt that he could easily have been adapted from a series of books, his character has that feel about him.

Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten and Jack Thompson also star, a strong line-up of Australian actors, and that does increase the quality of the film quite a bit, but it's Pedersen and his cowboy hat wearing Aboriginal detective that demands the most attention. I'd love to see more of his character.

The ending deserves a mention too for this is a surprising fight that portrays a gun battle in a style I've never really seen before. The sound of the rifle shot signalling that a bullet is on its way is a chilling prospect but a gun battle between long range rifles adds a whole extra level of tension. I loved the way this sequence played out and it had me on the edge of my seat, this was definitely one of the highlights of the film.

Overall.pngMystery Road has a lot of things to say about Australian and Aboriginal society, and it highlights them well in a thriller which is stylish and visually engaging at times reminding me of a classic brooding western and others an equally classic conspiracy thriller. However it deserved another edit and greater concentration on the flow of the core story plot threads which I felt were rather stilted and lacking in places. Saying that it is still an effective and engaging thriller that carries a great deal of tension particularly in some key sequences such as the final shoot out.

Within the thriller there are also some strong messages to be made about life in Australia, from the way of life in small, outback villages to the Aboriginies and the way they are treated. These messsages come through as part of the story and don't feel as though they are preaching or pushed onto the audience, like much of the film they come through the quieter moments, the moments between explanatory lines.

There's a strong cast with Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten and Jack Thompson giving good performances but the cowboy Aboriginal detective played by Aaron Pedersen is the biggest draw to the screen and his performance and character just makes you want to see more of him.

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