Film review: ‘THE DRY’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

New Australian film The Dry, which is based on the Jane Harper novel and stars Eric Bana, explores some familiar Australian movie themes.  There’s the prodigal son who, like Ben Mendelsohn in Beautiful Kate, returns to his small rural home town having left under controversial circumstances.  Also, like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Jindabyne and Black Rock there’s a perplexing mystery surrounding the fate of a young woman.  While the film delves into familiar material, director Robert Connolly avoids making it too derivative and constructs an intriguing, aesthetically striking if occasionally slow-moving crime drama.

Here, Bana plays federal cop Aaron Falk who returns to his drought-stricken home town of Kiewarra in regional Victoria for the funeral of an estranged childhood friend Luke (Martin Dingle Wall) who‘s believed to have killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself.  Unable to shake off his personal link to the case and his police officer instincts, Falk begins to investigate the apparent murder-suicide.  His presence isn’t particularly welcome in the town, though, as he’d originally fled 20 years ago as a teen after being implicated in a young girl’s death.  As Falk pursues the murder-suicide case, the long-buried feelings created by those past events begin to pierce the folksy surface of this small town.

Through his depiction of events which span multiple decades, Robert Connolly efficiently mixes police procedural, small town intrigue and redemption drama. As much as the crimes themselves, this film is about the plight of regional Australia as Connolly also explores the distressing daily struggle and dangerous financial distress experienced by people living in this alarmingly parched corner of the country.  With cinematographer Stefan Duscio (who lensed the gruelling Daniel Radcliffe drama Jungle) Connolly conjures stunning and yet despairing images of the vast dry expanses of rural Australia.

Aside from being an impressive technical achievement, the film features mostly strong performances with Bana well-cast in the role of Falk, convincingly capturing the character’s anguish beneath a mask of stoic emotional restraint.  Importantly, the film builds an impressive group of supporting characters around Falk with Genevieve O’Reilly both welcoming and wary of Falk as the cynical and troubled former friend Gretchen. Go-to guy for angry bogans, Matt Nable is terrific as always playing the explosively angry brother of the girl who was killed decades earlier.  Keir O’Donnell, as the anxious and fidgety local uniformed cop Greg Raco, provides a nice foil to the tough and composed Falk while a no-nonsense Miranda Tapsell as Raco’s wife and Eddie Baroo as the bear-like but surprisingly witty local bartender provide some welcome humour.

The film occasionally slips into Aussie film cliches with drunken blokes in utes swearin’ at the coppers.  There are also a few moments of clunky dialogue and times when more atmospheric direction could have made some sparse scenes more effective.  It’s not a ground-breaking Australian film like Sampson and Delilah or Sweet Country nor is it always gripping but it is for the most part an intelligent, engaging, well-constructed and distinctly Australian film.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Crime drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Robert Connolly.

Release date: 1st Jan 2021.

Running time: 117 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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