Director Ivan Sen
Starring Aaron Pederson, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Gulpilil, Pei Pei Cheng
LFF screenings 11th, 12th and 15th October
Australian powerhouse Ivan Sen returned to the London Film Festival this year in his own usual fashion – directing, writing, shooting, producing and composing the music for his latest film, Goldstone. And it follows on directly from his first movie, Mystery Road, which debuted at the 2014 festival.
Despite its faults, it was a film that showed a lot of promise. The fact that this follow-up had been chosen for both gala screening here and as the opener at Sydney, as well as having some weighty names added the cast, pointed to Sen being on the rise, and that he’d developed as a director. The sad truth is that he hasn’t.
The initial premise is sound enough. Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) is still a detective, but now a wreck after the demise of his marriage and the death of his daughter. In the mining town of Goldstone, he’s pulled over for drunk driving by local cop, Josh (Alex Russell). Needless to say, the younger man has no idea he’s arrested one of his own – echoing In The Heat Of The Night, but the revelation is less dramatic. Swan’s been sent to the town in the middle of nowhere to find a missing Chinese girl and, although sceptical at first, Josh joins forces with him. The town is rife with corruption as the mine is planning to expand, but they need public support to do it. And all of this stands in the way of Swan getting to the truth.
The plot has been kept simpler than in Mystery Road, where it corkscrewed out of control, but this time it’s gone too far in the other direction and is far too simplistic. Sen has also tried to reproduce the prolonged shoot out from the end of his first film, but here he gives us just a pale imitation. And the cinematography is in very much the same vein as before, but with less of those great sunsets and more of the aerial shots of the outback, vast expanses of nothingness and ever so slightly yawn inducing.
The film’s redeemed in part by Jacki Weaver relishing her role as the cake baking, corrupt mayor of the town who, despite the raging heat, always manages to have shine-free make up. Admittedly she’s slightly over the top but brings some much needed energy to the film and makes a good foil for Aaron Pederson’s cop. He hasn’t lost his on-screen presence and is as enigmatic as ever but, this time, he looks decidedly rougher. The sad thing is that legendary Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil is criminally under-used in just a handful of scenes.
Sen hasn’t delivered on that promise of two years ago. He’s just given us more of the same when we wanted something more and something different. It’s not so much a slow burn as just plain slow, with nothing catches fire at the end.
Goldstone was screened at the London Film Festival on 12th and 15th October and is reviewed on Talking Pictures on 20th October. Its UK release date has yet to be confirmed.