“This world wasn’t made for you – you were made for it.”
This remarkably harsh platitude encapsulates Ivan Sen’s Goldstone, the Australian Director’s fourth feature and spiritual successor to 2013’s Mystery Road, too enveloping on the travails of Indigenous Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) which opened the Sydney Film Festival three years ago.
Goldstone in every sense evokes the classic, Philip Marlowe-style noir mystery. There’s a hard-bitten detective (Pedersen), a missing girl, a femme-fatale figure, corrupt officials (David Wenham in an effective if underutilized performance) and a smarming Sydney Greenstreet-esque shadow pervading the whole picture (Jacki Weaver in a delectably vicious role).
Still more evocative of P. D. James than any Sam Spade thrillers or the like, Goldstone’s strongest assets are its numerous characters, vividly drawn even in the absence of significant screen-time or dialogue. Notably, Pedersen only has a handful of lines throughout the film, much less than many of the supporting players and Goldstone is all the better for it, with Swan’s hardened stoicism and recalcitrance to those who get in his way confidently shining through a glare from Pedersen, or better yet, no discernible reaction at all.
Set against the backdrop of people-trafficking, mining giants, rural communities and the machinations of government and an Aboriginal Land Council, Goldstone touches a lot of raw nerves. Evocatively realised on screen, the film delves in large part into Indigenous culture and challenges facing Indigenous Australians, featuring a moving sequence in a picturesque canyon and a short yet affecting turn from actor David Gulpilil.
Of all the intriguing characters, Alex Russell’s conflicted cop Josh is distinctly indelible, torn between acquiescing to his authority figures and doing what he thinks is right. Working from different ends of the investigation and sharing the leading-man load, Josh’s toils lead to some of Goldstone’s tensest and most thrilling sequences, including a shoot-out later in the film distinguished by some atypically, almost surreally nonchalant bystanders.
The film’s penultimate sequence is its most memorable, wordlessly capturing the ethos and drive of its hero in one of Goldstone’s smartest action sequences. A worthy piece of Australian drama tackling no small number of characters and issues, Goldstone hits a lot of its nails bang on the head.
Goldstone is currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival