Ivan Sen’s Goldstone is impossible to shake. From the first minute, the amazing, blaring score (composed by Sen – damned impressive overachiever that he is) comes at you with images layered across the screen from the 1800s Australian gold rush era. The pictures, filled with the hardened faces of those extracting “the colour” from the earth, are evidence of post-colonial exploitation. Aboriginals “civilised” in western clothing; Chinese migrants being used as cheap labour. The red dirt blankets the foundations of modern Australian civilisation: gold, exploitation and invasion. Goldstone is the battleground for Australia’s soul.
Aaron Pedersen’s Jay Swan rolls into Goldstone like a beer soaked tumbleweed; with no resemblance at all to the crisp, white hat-wearing, moral compass of Mystery Road (the 2013 precursor to Goldstone). He lands in the middle of a mining conglomerate’s local expansion. All that’s left is the rubber stamp of approval from the presiding indigenous council (David Gulpilil, Tommy Lewis). The Mayor (Jacki Weaver), on orders from slimy mining boss Johnny (David Wenham), is doing whatever she can to convince the council and local cop Josh (Alex Russell) that it’s the right thing for the community.
In the series to date there are constant references to wild dogs on the fringes of the town in Mystery Road and Goldstone. Where the dogs added another layer to the enigma of Mystery Road, it feels as if Pedersen’s Jay has become the embodiment of that wild dog.
Jay arrives in this town looking for an Asian girl, who was reported missing via hotline by Maria (Ursula Yovich). Seconds into his time on the mission, on the outskirts of town, you get a sense immediately that something has drawn him to this place beyond the case.
As in David Milch’s Deadwood, Sen uses the mining industry as the petri-dish of Western civilisation in the tiny (and fictional) Goldstone. Miners being squeezed to work ungodly hours and industry (booze and prostitution) spawning in their wake. That prostitution is human trafficking of Chinese migrants, who are required to pay for their passage to Australia by servicing the miners. Pei-Pei Cheng’s Mrs. Lao plays the stone-faced madam and instrument of fear for the mining company.
Ivan Sen shoots Goldstone exquisitely. The epic landscape that dwarfs you; you can’t help but feel like there is an eternity between locations; like the cars are just insects stirring up these dirt corridors. He shoots so meticulously, emphasising the scope and isolation, and at no point in this desolate wasteland do you feel like it’s not alive. Every frame is just rippling with something and you can’t help but feel like the dust has settled over the past. Stirring up that dust is uncovering not only the seedy underbelly of what is actually happening in Goldstone but what is happening in contemporary Australia.
The action direction too is some of the most impressive in recent memory (and yes I’ve seen Mad Max Fury Road and The Raid 2). With a steadiness that portrays a confidence, each action sequence unfolds with precision. In a car chase that feels extremely authentic, the camera’s stability increases the tension. The cars speed up alongside each other and ram one another, and there isn’t a Blue Brothers level of auto-acrobatics. The metal bodies bash against each other and drivers can maintain control. In the closing shootout of the film, the camera is graceful, appreciating the synchronicity of trained police gun fighters in Jay and Josh as they snake through the treacherous building blindspots to take down a gang of foes. It’s action cinematic calligraphy.
Pedersen’s Swan is impossibly good. It’s almost hard to even reconcile how we are looking at the same character from Mystery Road because he is so different in the opening stanzas of the film. Once you get a sense of what has happened between Mystery Road and Goldstone you begin to fathom his actions as misguided coping mechanisms. It’s a sensation, it’s heartbreaking, it’s subtle, it’s engrossing. You’re hanging on every gesture, on every word, on every movement, and Sen’s lens is a sponge.
The supporting cast do a great job of rising to Pedersen’s performance. Jacki Weaver is back to her calculating, manipulative best. Weaver, just as she did in Animal Kingdom, has an ability to capture you in her gaze and make the amoral sound trivial. She’s a great female character groomed by greed of the area’s power brokers. David Gulpilil’s performance presence is immeasurable. He’s like the living spirit of Australian indigenous actors. The moment he encounters Jay, it triggers a haunting recognition. David Wenham seems intent on taking unassuming looking characters — Johnny is doppelgänger for my 3rd grade teacher in this case — and making them callous slime-bags.
Russell’s Josh is the perfect contrast to Jay. Unlike Jay, who in Mystery Road found a way to be a bridge towards the communities that he’s serving and the law, Josh is ill-equipped to navigate the treacherous waters of working within an indigenous community he doesn’t understand, and alongside a mining group that is willing to suffocate you with money to turn a blind eye. Russell does a great job of walking the treacherous trapeze wire. When Jay plants the seed that something sinister is going down on his “watch” he forms a connection with Michelle Lim Davidson’s May.
Goldstone is thrilling. Goldstone is moving. Goldstone is unforgettable. Ivan Sen and Aaron Pedersen’s Jay Swan are the indigenous cinematic heroes we deserve.