★★★★☆ – A cool outback noir dripping with style and atmosphere.
Ivan Sen’s outback noir Goldstone opened last night’s 63rd Annual Sydney Film Festival; setting the tone for what looks to be a wonderfully diverse, thought-provoking and entertaining 12-day period. Utilising brooding silence over overt action sequences, Sen’s piece reflects that actions really do speak louder than words. As a director with complete control over every filmic aspect available (he not only directs, but writes, edits, shoots and composes the music for his work), a beautiful singularity of vision has been brought to life. This is one that is not afraid of genre, is not afraid to experiment, and is not afraid of tackling important cultural issues.
Set in the titular mining town Goldstone, Aaron Pederson returns from Mystery Road (2013) as detective Jay Swan, this time to unravel a missing persons case in the endless outback. Set upon by youthful and belligerent police officer Josh (Alex Russel) as soon as he comes into the town’s territory, Jay must find a way to work with him to bring justice to the community. This proves to be difficult against the bitingly cheery Mayor Jacki Weaver and the slippery Johnny (David Wenham) – owner of the Furnace Creek Metals company; who are inextricably involved with the town’s corruption. Secrets lie in Furnace Creek, and Jay’s involvement with the town brings with it a stirring of trouble – spelling terror for the missing girls he has come to rescue.
Sen toys expertly with the western and noir genres; bringing about a new sense of mystery, intrigue and action to both. The revival of detective Jay Swan, an indigenous man upholding the laws of white community, opens yet further discourses for the on-going discussion around aboriginal relations that Australia is working to balance; and Indigenous/European filmmaker Sen works to bring these to life. The indigenous community is a focal point to the narrative and the celebrated David Gulpilil carries this with utmost purpose, guiding Jay down the paths of his ancestors in a beautifully choreographed exploration of aboriginal history. The opening of the film itself is a display of old sepia images from Australia’s history – giving a nod to the audience in the direction of the place Sen wants to take his film.
As previously mentioned, silence reigns supreme for the majority of the movie. Pederson’s expertly portrayed deliberateness and calculation of Jay (when he isn’t drinking himself into a stupor) speaks more than words can for the background of his character, whilst the white characters of Goldstone have more dialogue and ‘voice’ than is necessary. It is no accident that the Mayor, police force, brothel owner, and owner of Furnace Creek are all white and in power in a place that seems to be largely populated by the indigenous community and the oppressed Chinese women of the brothel. Characters from other backgrounds vie for authority in a world that will crush their spirit if they don’t act in accordance to expectation: ‘The world was not made for you. You were made for it.’
In terms of the construction of the film, the roaming outback landscapes and desolation, isolation and desperation that permeates the atmosphere is breathtaking. Sen is truly a master of his art, using his expert eye to create long, swooping images and concentrated shots that stay with you after viewing. He couples this with a perfectly accentuating soundtrack – nothing invasive or obvious that would detract from the profoundness of his piece. Every actor within the work embodies their role to the letter; with Pederson’s protagonist being specifically written for him. Sen joked in the premiere that Pederson had ‘hassled him enough’ into doing another film that he’d given in and done it for him, which is reflected in the acute attention to detail from both in Jay Swan’s performance. Special mention must be given to Jacki Weaver also – her Mayor was the ultimate presentation of passive aggression and underlying instability. She was simultaneously threatening and kind, malicious and mothering; straddling the worlds of bad-guy and pie-baking grandmother perfectly.
Overall, Goldstone sets a high bar for the festival to live up to over its duration. Sen’s film reflects Mystery Road‘s opening in 2013, as this is the second time he has been invited to open the festival – more impressively so as both films are part of the same line up (albeit Goldstone is a stand-alone sequel rather than a direct link). Sen’s attention to detail and overruling of his filmmaking domain have proved to be highly successful, reiterating the ‘change your view, change your world’ mantra of the festival in beautifully composed ways. With a stellar cast, wonderful performances and a breathtaking view of rural Australia at its most deadly and impressive – Goldstone stands out as an important piece of modern cinema for the country, and one with messages for a range of audiences.
This article was originally posted to The Edge.