The Broken Shore – No Mystery Road

The premiere of The Broken Shore by the ABC brought another of Peter Temple’s novels to the screen. I’ve read Temple’s Truth where the central character is Inspector Stephen Villani who also appears in The Broken Shore. This is a complex and satisfying novel and I can only assume that the novel The Broken Shore is similar.

However, the TV adaptation is not particularly satisfying. I found myself asking should I read the book to understand film better and to try and resolve all the loose ends. Well, no. The film should stand on its own two feet.

Firstly, what was good about the film? Don Hany as Detective Joe Cashin is excellent as the damaged and brooding metropolitan cop sent on sabbatical to a small country town on the south-western coast of Victoria.

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He’s backed up by an excellent supporting cast. Anthony Hayes as Hopgood, the corrupt cop, is positively chilling in much the same way that Hugo Weaving is as Johnno in Mystery Road (more of the comparison between these two later). Claudia Karvan as Helen Castleman is the love interest and appears to provide little else to the plot of the movie.

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Unfortunately, there is no chemistry whatsoever between Hany and Karvan who was great as Caroline in The Time Of Our Lives where the lack of chemistry between her and William McInnes who played Matt was central to the plot. The relationship between Hany and Karvan generates about as much sexual frisson as that between MacInnes and Karvan except Hany and Karvan go to bed together, but with about as little reason.

The problems with the film are mainly around the plot which is confusing. The film begins with a fire in which the number of people killed and then cuts forward to the murder of a wealthy local man, Charles Burgoyne. The murder is clearly premeditated and deliberately violent. There is then a lengthy red hearing involving three aboriginal boys who were suspected of having murdered Burgoyne and stolen his watch.  But after a car chase which end up with one of them dead, they appear to disappear completely from the film. A fair amount of the film is spent developing this plot strand and in particular the relationship that develops between Joe and Hopgood.

After a bit of intensive sleuthing, Joe links Burgoyne to the Moral Companions who ran the camp for young boys where fire shown in the opening scenes occurred. The developing investigation and uncovers a paedophile network and the plot then follows a predictable course to the final conclusion.

Well it isn’t actually the final conclusion because the final scenes involve clues given to Joe by ex-policeman involving broken pottery from Burgoyne’s house. The clues are very specific and introduced in the final scenes of the film. Why? The audience is left with the impression that it hasn’t been told everything.

The disjointed nature of the plot is not helped by the cameos of the supporting cast. There’s a bit of carry on between Joe and an old friend over some building materials but again the whole incident appears to make no contribution to the overall texture of the film.

While Robyn Nevin as Cecily Addison, Burgoyne’s accountant plays an important role in linking Burgoyne to the Moral Companions, Noni Hazlehurst as Sybil Cashin, Joe’s mother does little other than filling some of the background details for Joe. Dan Wyllie, who plays Dave Rebb, and who is befriended by Joe. He begins to help Joe rebuild his ancestral home. At the end of the film, Joe suggests to Dave that he has played in the same football team as a number of the boys who were molested by the paedophile network. Dave denies it. Nothing more. What’s the point of this? Was Dave part of the group that was systematically torturing and murdering the paedophiles? There’s nothing in the film to suggest he was, except this final seemingly misplaced scene.

And finally, a comparison with Mystery Road. Mystery Road is a brilliant invocation of the connection between life in the small rural town and the landscape of outback Queensland. Director and screenwriter Ivan Sen weaves the stark beauty of the landscape into the stark and brutal nature of the lives of the people in the town. Despite the setting on Victoria’s spectacular south-western coast, there is no fusion between characters, the plot and the landscape in The Broken Shore. Certainly, there are lots of scenes with Joe standing on the cliffs looking out to sea and we get lots of shots of dead bodies being dragged out of the surf but there’s none of the poetic beauty of Mystery Road.

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