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In life we begin young, fresh-faced and idealistic. We think that no matter what kind of situation we end up in, it’ll be enough to get us through even the toughest situations. As we move through life, we sometimes are rewarded for our optimism, but then we end up in places that feel like Gotham City or some other equivalent. It is a place rampant with corruption and crime. We coach ourselves through, telling ourselves that we will stay and fight the good fight for as long as it takes. We will emerge victorious. The next thing you know, months, or perhaps even years have gone by and you are still in the same spot. During that time one of two things might have happened. Maybe you give up and leave the fighting to someone else with more energy or you become part of the problem, by becoming corrupt yourself or you turn a blind eye to the issues you swore to stand against.
The small mining town of Goldstone can be seen as a kind of Gotham City, just much less congested. If something happens out there few people if any would know about it since the nearest soul is miles away. Located in the Australian Outback, it is desolate, the sun is harsh with few trees around to seek refuge under, and there are wild animals about. Doesn’t sound like the kind of place you would go to for vacation. Rather, it is either the kind of place you end up in or it’s the kind of place pass through. Josh (Alex Russell) pulls over an inebriated man and arrests him for driving while drunk, only to find out that the man he arrested is Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) a man with a reputation. After some initial tension between the two, it comes to the light that Jay has been sent to Goldstone on a case to find a missing Asian tourist.
There are forces that don’t want Jay snooping around and potentially causing trouble and it’ll be up to Josh to decide what side he’s on. Will he do the right thing and help Jay or will he continue playing along with the shady figures who control the pieces of the chess board and ultimately do nothing? Having to contend with a missing person, human trafficking and a thread that deals with the Aboriginal people engaged in a bitter conflict over land rights, there will be a fair amount for audiences to digest.
Goldstone is the sequel to the 2013 success Mystery Road, which incidentally also premiered at Cinequest a few years back. Director Ivan Sen has delivered a film that is a slow burn of a picture, for most of the film’s runtime, but the last third of the film packs a sufficient punch that has enough of an effect to wake audiences up if they happened to be falling asleep during one of the film’s several long stretches of quiet introspection.
Coming into the film with no prior knowledge of Jay Swan or his exploits in before this film doesn’t hurt anything. The film certainly stands on its own without heavy references to the previous film and that is a strength. In fact, any references that might come up are minor and they occur late in the film. Characters don’t spend too much time harping on Jay’s past and that helps the film not get bogged down during the couple times a door is opened to Jay’s past. A smart decision made by Sen, who also penned the screenplay, which is grounded, intimate at points, but never bloated. Yet it allows generous room for moments and exchanges to breathe. In that way, it mirrors the town of Goldstone with its long stretches of road as characters traverse from one area to another seemingly taking their time.
Though there is a fair amount of screen time given to others like Maureen (Jacki Weaver) or Josh, ultimately there is no mistaking that this is Aaron Pedersen’s world and from the first time you see him, it’s not hard to see why. Pedersen is probably the most affecting actor in this film. Alex Russell’s Josh is a good young foil to Pedersen’s Jay and they work well together in a film that is more hard-boiled mystery thriller than it is a throwback to the great buddy cop flicks, but Pedersen brings the weight of the character’s backstory and experience to bare in full effect. Without ever having seen the first film, Pedersen shows you quite a lot without ever speaking sometimes. He probably speaks the least of the characters that have more time.
The film is visually striking in a way that captures the harshness and unforgiving nature of the landscape. Shooting in remote Queensland Outback drives home the isolation of such an area. The standout regarding the cinematography of the entire film though would probably have to be a sequence where Jay and Jimmy (Indigenous legend David Gulpilil) travel to a gorge surrounded by the most beautiful and unique wall formations, which are a little claustrophobic and displays ancient drawings. The moment is a sort of spiritual conversation for Jay; it is him getting more in touch with the roots of the land, and the ancestors who before him. The scene is so powerful and moving and sticks out so much, it has to be revisited a second time in the film because it is that breathtaking. The film also offers little-seen ways to shoot sequences as shown in overhead shots, meaning the camera is looking straight down at the scene beneath it where areas look like a maze and people looks like dots traversing the maze. It is cool and gives the picture some pop and life.
There is a pleasantly unexpected intercultural marriage of threads about an Asian group of tourist girls forced into sex-work, relations between Aboriginals and shady mining companies who struggle for control over land, a strong message about respecting and preserving the sacredness of a culture and at the heart of it, two men on the path to discovering the truth about what they are doing. They are also on the path toward mutual respect and redemption; they wrestle with their own internal conflicts and makes them that much richer as characters. They put the ‘gold’ in Goldstone.