I have read a number of articles and synopses describing this Australian drama as a crime thriller. I fear such a statement gives a false impressions as to how thrilling it is, because it really isn’t. That is not to say that it isn’t good. It’s well acted and competently shot. However, due to its slow, plodding pace, I suspect many viewers will grow frustrated quite a while before the end of the film.
Racial tensions, drugs and murder are the main ingredients in Ivan Sen’s film, with all three strung together by an Aboriginal cop (an excellent Aaron Pederson) investigating the death of an aboriginal girl in a predominantly white town. It’s an interesting, if not entirely original, mixture, and one which Sen commands with a deft and understated touch. For a lot of the film, it doesn’t matter that excitement isn’t anywhere to be found. There is enough dramatic tension to be getting on with.
It doesn’t all hold together and as the story approached its awkward final act my patience started waning and I just wanted the story to get on with what it was trying to say. But regardless of this, I must say how impressed I am with the work Sen has put into this film. Not only does he direct, but also write, photograph and compose. He is a man of many talents.
The digital HD photography does occasionally look a bit televisual but still manages to be striking. It is, however, important to remember that in a time when high definition digital is becoming the norm for films both big and small, and as production values of TV shows go up, it’s natural for the gap once held apart by (among other things) the aesthetic feel and look of the content should start to close. Film becomes television and television becomes film. Why? Because ‘film’ barely exists anymore – we have digital now. There are good sides and bad sides to this debate. But that’s for another time.
Mystery Road (2013), directed by Ivan Sen, is showing at the BFI London Film Festival this autumn. Screening details can be found here.