Ivan Sen opens his slow-burn western Goldstone with yellowed photographs of a frontier mining town, and although the film is set in contemporary Australia, it suggests that a modern community can feel as remote and lawless as the wild west. In the Queensland outback, the combination of a desperate, dwindling population and lucrative mineral deposits has led to endemic corruption. Racial segregation is maintained through land councils and restrictive immigration, and the local white cop is dumbfounded that the aboriginal drunk driver he pulled over could be a police detective, or that he'd bother investigating a missing Chinese sex worker.
When the violence comes, as it must, Sen stages his shoot-outs with the physical and emotional wallop of the best westerns, but he's more interested in restoring the faith of law enforcement officers whose belief in justice has eroded. Sen brings back Det. Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) from Mystery Road and gives him a Thunderheart storyline: a case sends Jay to his father's tribal land, where an elder (David Gulpilil) helps him connect to a lost heritage. Josh Waters (Alex Russell) may not accept bribes, but he knows he's compromised, and a trafficked girl (Michelle Lim Davidson) at the mine company's brothel makes him question the status quo.
Sen, who's also screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, and composer, stocks Goldstone with taciturn characters oozing menace. "Don't take it personal when things turn from ripe to rotten," the maternal, manipulative mayor (Jacki Weaver) tells Jay, and only those who can recognize that moment survive in Sen's unforgiving desert.