When a young Aboriginal girl’s body is found in the Outback, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his home town to investigate the case, turning over old memories and crating new conflicts in the process.
Mystery Road, at the heart of it, is a police procedural drama with some racial conflicts thrown in for good measure. Director Ivan Sen returns to the issue of race relations in Australia after his last film, Toomelah, addressed the issue through the eyes of a child. Sen has created a slow burning mystery drama, and the rich cinematography serves to underline the tragic beauty of the town, and create a feeling of a Western about the film.
Aaron Pedersen takes on the role of Jay Swan, an Aboriginal cop returning to the town he left to investigate a murder. There are plenty of issues raised through Jay’s appearance in the town, and his presence seems to irritate both the Aboriginal and the white locals. Hugo Weaving gets in touch with his nasty side as a racist white cop, and Ryan Kwanten steps away from the rather thick but well meaning Jason from True Blood, to play a character with real menace.
Ivan Sen allows the conflicts to raise their heads sharply in the film, then relax into a slow burn. Pressures mount and feathers are fatally as Swan uncovers uncomfortable truths about the town he has returned to. There is a feeling of a Western about the film, as resentments and hatred are concealed just below the surface, and it is only a matter of time before they explode onto the surface. The death of a young woman sends Swan searching for answers and uncovering corruption, racism and hatred as he goes.
The film struggles slightly from an elongated running time, dragging the story out just serves to drag it out. The tension is already there and leaving it to burn for a two hour running time means the film is constantly in danger of burning itself out.
In all, Mystery Road is a by the numbers police procedural, elevated by throwing in racial tensions in the Australian outback. The performances are strong but, other than the racial issue that is constantly played throughout the film, it has surprisingly little to say. Beautiful cinematography, a tenacious cop and conflict between good and bad, as well as between two races serves to heighten the film to slightly above average.