Australian cinema has a new hero — or heroes, to be exact. In case 2013's neo-western crime thriller Mystery Road didn't make that apparent, Goldstone shouts it across the outback. On screen, Indigenous police detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) stalks through another remote desert town searching for the truth. Behind the camera, writer-director Ivan Sen guides another insightful examination of race, prejudice, inequality and exploitation inextricably linked to the Australian landscape.
Indeed, across their two features to date, both the character and the filmmaker confront not only the challenging reality of present day Australia, but the deep scars left by the past. Accordingly, as much as Goldstone is a follow-up, it's also far more than just a narrative sequel to Mystery Road. Instead, the companion piece expands upon its predecessor's themes to explore a host of different topics, including human trafficking and the government-sanctioned mining of resources, in order to further push Sen's ongoing cinematic conversation about the state of his country today.
Swan isn't quite the same no-nonsense cop viewers will remember from the previous film. When he's first spied driving drunk on the outskirts of the titular mining community, local officer Josh Waters (Alex Russell) is surprised to find a police badge stashed amongst his belongings. Reports of a missing Chinese woman, possibly linked to the town's brothel, have sparked Swan's visit, but he's hardly given a warm welcome. Josh is reluctant to help, mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) oozes malice behind her big smile, and goldmine boss Johnny (David Wenham) is clearly unhappy about strangers rolling into town. Given all that, it's hardly surprising when bullets start flying in Swan's direction.
With the narrative also exploring Swan's links to his heritage via Aboriginal elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), as well as the dynamic between a madam (Cheng Pei-pei) and her reluctant workers, Goldstone dives into complex territory. And yet, with Pedersen always front and centre as the unflappable Swan, the film filters its many threads through a confident, commanding central presence. Amidst an excellent cast, Pedersen demonstrates why he's one of the country's most talented actors, in a portrayal that conveys more through glances and body language than most say with words. His is a performance of quiet determination, and of breaking through pain to find a way forward.
In fact, Pedersen is so convincing that Sen's decision to drop back into Swan's story after significant unseen turmoil feels completely natural. And just as the character refuses to give up, the writer-director (who also serves as producer, editor, cinematographer and composer) refuses to underestimate the audience's ability to piece the necessary parts together. Some of the dialogue is a little bit blunt, but sometimes both force and nuance are required to make a strong statement. It's how Sen balances the two that's pivotal. As it alternates between intimate close-ups and vast aerial shots, punctuating a contemplative pace with expertly choreographed gun battles, Goldstone proves a masterclass in maintaining that balance.