Mystery Road (film)

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Mystery Road
Theatrical film poster
Directed by Ivan Sen
Produced byDavid Jowsey
Written byIvan Sen
Music byIvan Sen
CinematographyIvan Sen
Edited byIvan Sen
Release date
  • 5 June 2013 (2013-06-05)(Sydney FF)
  • 15 August 2013 (2013-08-15)(Australia)
Running time
118 minutes
Box office$280,702 [1]

Mystery Road is a 2013 Australian crime film with neo-Western elements and setting, [2] written and directed by Ivan Sen. It was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. [3] A film sequel entitled Goldstone was released in 2016, and TV series in 2018, all featuring Aaron Pedersen as the brooding Indigenous Australian detective Jay Swan.



Near the rural town of Winton, Queensland, a truck driver finds the body of a teenage Aboriginal girl named Julie Mason inside one of the drainage culverts under the road. Newly promoted aboriginal Detective Jay Swan, recently returned from training in the city, investigates the murder. He learns that Julie was a drug addict who would have sex with truck drivers for money. He attempts to question another local Aboriginal girl, Tarni Williams, who was friends with Julie, but she refuses to speak to him. A neighbourhood boy tells Jay that he found Julie's phone and gives it to him. Jay finds several text messages to his teenage daughter, Crystal. He visits his ex-wife, Mary, and speaks to Crystal. He asks her if she wants to move in with him to his nicer neighbourhood, but she declines. Mary tells Jay that it is too late for him to be a father. Jay searches a farm near where Julie's body was found and meets its owner, Sam Bailey. Before Jay leaves, he sees a young man leaving in a white hunting truck. Jay later finds out that another teenage Aboriginal girl had also gone missing earlier.

Before dawn one morning, Jay goes to the radio tower where truck drivers would take girls, and Jay observes men taking something off a truck and driving it to what appears to be a drug lab. As he drives away, his police colleagues, Johnno and Robbo, flag him down. Johnno attempts to intimidate Jay, asking if he has ever killed anyone accidentally. Jay later asks his boss about Johnno and is told that Johnno had some unspecified trouble in his previous assignment and had to transfer here, but that he is close to making some big arrests.

Jay visits the Dusk Til Dawn Motel, after hearing that Julie used to go there to sleep with truckers. When he asks the motel owner about frequent guests who stayed there on the night of Julie's death, she tells him about a white man registered under the name "William Smith", who drives a white hunting truck. Jay realises it might be the same truck he saw leaving Sam Bailey's farm earlier. He returns to Sam's farm, where he encounters Pete, who says his father isn't around, insults Jay, refuses to let him search his truck, and states that he works as a kangaroo hunter and is an expert shot. Jay goes back to the police station and pulls up Pete Bailey's police record, which shows a long criminal record, and that Pete had last been arrested for drug possession by another local police officer who had recently been killed on the job. Jay tries to find the investigation file of the slain police officer, but can't find it. Instead, Jay visits the young widow of the deceased police officer, who tells him that the officer had been called to work by another, unnamed police officer on the night that he was killed.

The next day, Jay follows Johnno leaving the police station in a police car. Johnno switches vehicles, parking the police car out of sight, and leaves in his own hunting truck. Jay then follows Johnno to a rest stop where he meets up with a local drug dealer named Wayne Silverman. When Jay later goes to Wayne's house, Wayne flees, but Jay catches and arrests him. Under questioning, Wayne tells Jay that he deals drugs to local Aboriginal girls and then prostitutes them out when they can't pay. He taunts Jay, by asking about Jay's daughter, Crystal. Wayne mentions that he stole a car that contained heroin, but he subsequently lost the drugs. Johnno interrupts the interrogation to release Wayne, who is his informant. Jay stakes out the drug lab in the country, and sees a man in an orange car hand over Wayne to someone in a Land Rover. As he leaves, Johnno is waiting to tell him it's time they got something to eat together. At the restaurant, Johnno ignores his questions, but states that he is looking for something that's missing. He also tells Jay he should take better care of his daughter, implying Crystal has been taken. Jay abruptly walks out, and goes to search the house of the initial victim, Julie. It's been ransacked but he manages to discover several bags of heroin, hidden in the TV. He calls Johnno to arrange a trade at a hill off Mystery Road.

When he arrives first for the exchange, Jay loads his hunting rifle and pistol. The orange car and Land Rover arrive and Jay hands over the heroin then waits for them to hand over Crystal. Jay sees Pete's truck in the distance, and Pete uses his hunting rifle to wound Jay in the arm. A shootout ensues as Jay runs back to his car for cover. The man who is wearing a mask and was driving the orange car attempts to flank Jay but is shot by Johnno, who supports Jay with a scoped hunting rifle from afar. Jay and Johnno shoot several of the men dead. Pete and Johnno exchange long-distance shots as Jay kills all the rest of the criminals as they attempt to flee, and then disables Pete's truck when he tries to drive away. The two exchange fire from a distance and Jay kills Pete. After the gun battle Jay spots Johnno's dead body, whom Pete had bested. Jay discovers that the masked driver was Officer Robbo. Searching the Land Rover, Jay finds Sam Bailey in the backseat shot through the neck, and scratch marks on the backseat and a necklace with the name "Julie" on it.

At sunset, Jay returns to Winton and sees Mary and Crystal waiting for him. He gets out of the car, and the three stare at each other as the sun sets.



Critical response

Mystery Road received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 92% based on reviews from 36 critics, with an average rating of 7.25/10. [4]

Tom Clift of FILMINK called it a "masterfully executed slice of storytelling that rates as one of our finest films of the past few years." [5] Sandra Hall of The Sydney Morning Herald also gave a positive review, commenting that "Mystery Road's links to the classic Hollywood western are as obvious as its hero's cowboy boots and white hat but they do nothing to diminish its Australianness." [6] Craig Mathieson of The Sunday Age called it a "deeply satisfying and slow-burning modern-day western set in outback New South Wales, Ivan Sen's outstanding film Mystery Road bridges the current divide in Australian cinema with a prominent and precise work." [7]

Not all reviews were positive. Alex Doenau of Trespass commented "There simply isn't enough dynamism to justify Sen's story. Australian movies have to work harder to secure audiences beyond those who go to them out of a sense of duty or worthiness; Mystery Road simply doesn't go that far." [8]

The film was a rare foreign screening at the 2014 Pyongyang International Film Festival, North Korea. [9]


AACTA Awards
Best Film David JowseyNominated
Best Direction Ivan Sen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Actress Tasma Walton Nominated
Best Editing Ivan SenNominated
Best Sound Lawrence HorneNominated
Nick EmondNominated
Joe HuangNominated
Phil JuddNominated
Les FiddessNominated
Greg FitzgeraldNominated
Asia Pacific Screen Awards Best Actor Aaron Pedersen Nominated
Australian Film Critics Association AwardsBest FilmDavid JowseyWon
Best DirectorIvan SenWon
Best ActorAaron PedersenWon
Best Supporting Actor Hugo Weaving Won
Best Supporting ActressTasma WaltonNominated
Best ScreenplayIvan SenWon
Best CinematographyWon
Film Critics Circle of Australia AwardsBest FilmDavid JowseyWon
Best DirectorIvan SenWon
Best ScriptNominated
Best ActorAaron PedersenWon
Best ActressTasma WaltonNominated
Best Supporting Actor Tony Barry Nominated
Hugo WeavingNominated
Best CinematographerIvan SenNominated
Best EditingNominated
Best MusicNominated
Best Production DesignMatthew PutlandNominated

Sequel and spin-off series

Sen wrote and directed a sequel to Mystery Road, entitled Goldstone . Pedersen reprises his role, and joining the cast is David Wenham, Alex Russell, David Gulpilil and Jacki Weaver. A spin-off six-part TV series also titled Mystery Road screened on the ABC in 2018, with Series 2 shown in 2020.

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  1. "Mystery Road". Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  2. Cooke, Grayson (2014). "Whither the Australian Western? Performing genre and the archive in outback and beyond" (pdf). Transformations: Journal of Media and Culture (24): 3. ISSN   1444-3775 . Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  3. "Mystery Road". TIFF. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  4. "Mystery Road (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  5. Clift, Tom (14 October 2013). "Mystery Road". Filmink . Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  6. Hall, Sandra (12 October 2013). "Mystery Road review: A sinister landscape". The Sydney Morning Herald . Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  7. Mathieson, Craig (13 October 2013). "Mystery Road". The Age . Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  8. Doenau, Alex (26 October 2013). "Review: Mystery Road". Trespass Magazine. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  9. Sigley, Alek (29 December 2014). "North Korea and Western films do mix - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". ABC Online . Retrieved 29 December 2014.