July 30th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Success of sex-change surgery a propaganda lie

CANBERRA OBSERVED Add two to cabinet as a conservative estimate

GENDER WARS Safe Schools provokes personal pronoun furore

ELECTION ROUNDUP Captain Titanic shuffles deck chairs

EDITORIAL Why court rules against Beijing on South China Sea

VICTORIA Turnbull must move to douse CFA dispute

ENVIRONMENT Wind, solar push up SA electricity prices

EUTHANASIA

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Dr John Burton - public servant and Soviet agent

U.S. HISTORY AND POLITICS Is Trump long-awaited successor to Huey Long?

MUSIC A medium whose meaning is hidden from words

CINEMA No man on the mean roads of the Outback: Goldstone

BOOK REVIEW A significant first novel

BOOK REVIEW A certain rottenness in the state of Victoria

LETTERS

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CINEMA
No man on the mean roads of the Outback: Goldstone


by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, July 30, 2016

The detective as knight-errant is a key character in the modern imagination. He enters into the story to solve the mystery and thus restore order.

 

Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan.

Such stories are tragedies told backwards, for the protagonist is not the detective but the victim, as the great Ross MacDonald, author of the Lew Archer stories, argued. The detective acts as a sort of a Greek chorus, one who in discovering the truth, reveals it to the audience. But the detective is not just the discoverer – he is also the avenger, the agent of Nemesis, who enacts justice, and like the classical agent of Nemesis, his responsibilities have often driven him off the edge of reasonable society, making him an outsider.

 

Ivan Sen’s Goldstone opens with young country cop Josh (Alex Russell) pulling over a speeding four-wheel drive in the middle of nowhere. He takes its drunk driver, an Aboriginal man with, as yet, no name, into the lockup. Going through the man’s belongings, he discovers he is Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), last seen in Sen’s critically acclaimed 2013 film Mystery Road. In that movie, the newly promoted detective Swan had just returned from the city, and had to solve the murder of a young girl while dealing with corrupt cops and rural drug labs. How Swan went from a clean-cut man of order to a hard-drinking hard man is unexplained, but it can be assumed that the bloody events of the first film played their part.

Maureen (Jacki Weaver) the apple-pie baking Mayor, all dolled up as if she’s in the city, rather the bush, is concerned about this stranger and whether he will have an impact on the work of the goldmine at Furnace Creek, managed by the seedy Johnny (David Wenham). Johnny is always in a white shirt and shorts, with oversized spectacles, a man not above providing extra “incentives” to make sure he gets what he wants.

The town of Goldstone – more of a collection of run-down units than a town – relies on the mine for its existence. And the mine, whose security guards seem more like a private army, is relying upon a new deal with the Aboriginal Land Council, headed by Tommy (Tom E. Lewis) and Jimmy (David Gulpilil), to expand its billion-dollar operations. The mine also relies on Mrs Lao (Hong Kong action star Cheng Pei-Pei) and her “associates” flying in Chinese girls like May (Michelle Davidson) for the “use” of its workers.

Swan is looking for a missing Chinese girl, and what he finds is a mess of corruption and indifference, all in the service of what Jimmy calls the “money-god”, the god worshipped by all those who’ve come to Goldstone. Swan is a problem, and it’s not long before he attracts the attention of some unsavoury characters who want to make sure he leaves, one way or another.

In many ways, Goldstone is a throwback to another sort of filmmaking and storytelling. It’s been called an Outback noir, and a modern Aussie Western. It clearly draws on the hard-boiled detective tradition of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald in its depiction of corruption and greed, while the character of Swan’s morally certain but troubled detective owes as much to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name as it does to the world-weary gumshoe. He is a catalyst for judgement and redemption, both for himself and everyone else, as he forces a society to confront the consequences of its actions.

Instead of the sharp shadows and cityscapes of the traditional noir, we are presented with the rich and evocative colours of the outback, a place depicted as beautiful but isolated – and isolating. Soaring overhead shots emphasise the littleness of humanity in such a vast place, and the contrast is stark between the impermanent – and alien – human dwellings and the age-old landscape.

Goldstone is an impressive achievement for any filmmaker, and especially so when one considers that Ivan Sen is not only the writer and director, but also the editor, cinematographer and composer.

The performances are superb and understated, where the mundane – Maureen’s baking or Johnny’s offers of soft drink – has a menacing edge. Swan is a man of few words, especially as everyone else likes to talk at him, and Pedersen’s performance is one of looks and gestures, more telling than the empty words the others speak.

While the film alludes to issues such as human trafficking, the exploitation of Aboriginal land and the unscrupulous behaviour of big business, it is fundamentally about the doing of justice and the gaining of redemption. It presents the detective as hero, as the knight-errant come to save the day, who shows that the day can be won, that truth can be found, and that evil can be vanquished.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).




























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