Despite being among the most avid cinema-goers in the world, Australians seldom see their own stories on-screen. There was once a time when there was a plethora of such films, all reflecting the struggles and challenges Australia faced. This here is a picture which harks back to that period, but it isn’t exactly a crowd-pleaser.
On the outskirts of an outback mining town called Goldstone, local policeman Josh (Alex Russell) arrests a dazed Aboriginal man for drink-driving. At the town’s makeshift police station, Josh discovers that the mystery man is Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), a detective tasked with finding a missing Asian tourist. After sobering up, Jay makes his way to a remote Indigenous community where he finds his one and only lead – if you could call it that.
Meanwhile in Goldstone, Josh has had to deal with an unruly group of mining employees who have disturbed the peace far-too-often. His attempts to quell the offending draw the ire of the mine’s manager Johnny (David Wenham), who unsuccessfully tries to bribe Josh into forgetting the problem. Goldstone’s mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) isn’t too worried about such behaviour – her greatest concern is why Jay is in town.
Goldstone acts as a quasi-sequel to director Ivan Sen’s previous release, the underappreciated Mystery Road. Those who’ve seen 2013’s western-noir will know what to expect here: excellent cinematography, great acting, haunting music and an entertaining gun-slinging finale. Don’t feel obliged to see Mystery Road before seeing this film, as the only direct connection between the two is the main protagonist.
Much like Mystery Road – expect to read that phrase later in this review – Sen doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, here providing a commentary on the fly-in, fly-out mining communities found across much of Australia. As well as the anti-social behaviour mentioned before, the story also discusses human trafficking, corruption, suicide and cultural identity.
Sen has also assembled a terrific cast, with each actor being a pleasing presence. Among those not already named include David Gulpilil (Charlie’s Country, Crocodile Dundee) as local elder Jimmy, and Michelle Lim Davidson as an Asian prostitute. The action scenes, despite their brevity, provide adequate thrills, while the suspense lingers just long enough to keep interest (key word being “just”).
Consider three of those words for a moment: brevity, adequate, just. These words don’t exactly scream “fun”, and there’s a reason for that. Much like Mystery Road – see, there’s that phrase again – Goldstone is a connect-the-dots, slow-burn affair designed to appeal to a niche audience rather than the mainstream. And, because the two are so similar, the newer film doesn’t have the same impact its predecessor did.
As a throwback to the Australian westerns of years past, Goldstone delivers… to an extent. It shows promise in its tone, themes and cast, but never fully grasps the attention of the audience.