Monday 7 December 2020

Movie Review: Goldstone (2016)

A crime drama, Goldstone benefits from a slow-burning pace and magnificently desolate landscapes in a story of greed and corruption consuming local culture.

In the Australian outback, hard-drinking Aboriginal federal detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) arrives at the small mining town of Goldstone to investigate the case of a missing young Asian woman. The town is dominated by the Furnace Creek mining company, and local law officer Josh Waters (Alex Russell) is content to ignore any talk of crime and remains uncooperative with Jay.

To enable a massive expansion of mining operations, Goldstone's Mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) is secretly working with Furnace Creek's foreman Johnny (David Wenham) to buy-off the local Aboriginal tribe. Indigenous band council member Tommy (Tommy Lewis) receives bundles of cash from Maureen to keep the tribe quiet, but band elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil) refuses to fall in line.

Jay uncovers a human smuggling operation financed by Furnace Creek forcing young Asian women into prostitution to serve the men at the mine. Josh awakens to his duties and starts to make life uncomfortable for Maureen, who threatens violence.

When a local is a stranger in his own land, trouble is sure to follow. In Goldstone, writer and director Ivan Sen invades the soul of Jay Swan and finds a deeply damaged man, mourning the loss of his daughter and repeatedly advised by whites (Josh and Maureen) and aboriginals (Tommy) to pack up and get out. But Jay is on a sanctioned mission to uncover the fate of a missing woman, this time a stranger forced into a strange land, and he is certain that by tugging on this one thread a whole lot of rot will be revealed.

The film builds dangerous power from Aaron Pedersen's brooding, dishevelled performance, and Jay's deployment of silence for strategic advantage. Many scenes feature the detective dominating his surroundings without saying a word, leaving others to talk their way into trouble. And his silence is a perfect companion to the unforgiving beauty of the Australian desert, Sen frequently using expansive overhead shots to emphasize just how overwhelmingly lonely and empty the terrain can be. 

Jacki Weaver contributes the other memorable performance: a perpetually smiling mayor, as adept at baking pies as she is at uttering threats from lips oppressed by excessive lipstick.

The plot is assembled from familiar pieces, including the alcohol-friendly protagonist harbouring a deep hurt, the slow-to-build alliance between two men, and the evil corporation stomping all over environmental and cultural concerns with the help of corrupt officials and plenty of dirty money.

But despite a rush to bring out the guns for the rather prosaic final chapter, Sen delivers a searing and sun-drenched crime drama, a battle of wills between individuals as a microcosm of the grand debate around limits of resource extraction and land stewardship. Some scores will be settled, but intransigent conflicts will rumble on.

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