A noirish, Western-flavored thriller set in the Australian Outback, in a provincial community where no one seems capable of giving a straight answer to a direct question, “Goldstone” is less concerned with solving the missing-person case that is its ostensible subject than it is with maintaining its cynical tone.
Written and directed by Ivan Sen, the film takes place in and around the town that lends the film its title, a dusty backwater seemingly consisting of a diner, a whorehouse and a jail. Surrounding it are a few trailers housing the white employees of a rapacious gold-mining company, and the equally modest homes of the indigenous people who once called the land theirs. It is not a story of justice, but of a kind of standoff between good and evil.
Initially, there seems precious little of the former.
That’s especially true as manifested by the town’s one policeman, Josh (“Chronicle’s” Alex Russell), a young man who can be bought with something as simple as an apple pie, proffered by the town’s mayor, a woman with the smile of a grandmother and the warmth of a snake (played by the great Jacki Weaver of “Silver Linings Playbook”). As the film opens, Josh has just detained a drunken traveler named Jay (Aaron Pedersen), who turns out to be a detective investigating the disappearance, six months ago, of a young Chinese woman fleeing from the brothel where she and others like her appear to have been brought against their will.
The fact that Jay is both Aboriginal and a cop puts him in bad stead, not only with Goldstone’s racists, but with the Aboriginal residents, who don’t take kindly to officials of any color. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Josh, who is white, and Jay, which evolves, in the course of the film’s slow burn, from mistrust to grudging respect.
Released in Australia in 2016, the film was nominated for several prizes, including best picture, by Australia’s Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. Stylistically, it feels like a cousin of the socially conscious contemporary Westerns of writer-turned-director Taylor Sheridan, whose screenplay for “Hell or High Water” deals with a similar relationship between a white cop (Jeff Bridges) and his Native American partner (Gil Birmingham), and whose directorial debut, “Wind River,” centers on the investigation of a murder on an Indian reservation.
Sen spins this mesmerizing yarn unhurriedly, even up to the point where its many tangled threads — sex trafficking, cultural oppression and the all-too-common complicity of the oppressed — threaten to break apart in an explosion of violence. “Goldstone” is punctuated by striking aerial photography, underscoring a sense of the tale’s place in the larger cultural context. Ultimately, though set in the remote Australian bush, “Goldstone” is grounded in the vivid familiarity of the here and now.
R. At Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains violence, strong language and mature thematic material. 110 minutes.