THE DRY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Robert Connolly

Stars: Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell, Matt Nable, William Zappa, Miranda Tapsell, John Polson, Bruce Spence, Julia Blake, BeBe Bettencourt, James Frecheville, Eddie Baroo, Joe Klocek, Claude Scott-Mitchell.             

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This gripping drama is a faithful adaptation of Jane Harper’s bestselling mystery novel of murder, corruption and secrets set in a small country town suffering a prolonged period of drought.

Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), a Federal Police officer, returns home to the fictional town of Kiewarra after a twenty-year absence to attend the funeral of his former childhood friend Luke, who apparently shot and killed his wife and young son before turning the gun on himself. Aaron is asked by Luke’s distraught parents (veterans Bruce Spence and Julia Blake) to look into the circumstances surrounding their son’s death. Reluctantly Aaron agrees.

But his stay in his hometown is haunted by memories of a painful incident from his adolescence when Ellie (newcomer BeBe Bettencourt), a friend of his and Luke’s, drowned in mysterious circumstances. Aaron was accused of being involved in her death and was driven out of town by her family. Many within the town believed that he was lying about his whereabouts when Ellie died. Now Ellie’s surviving family, especially her resentful and bullying brother Grant (Matt Nable), are not about to let him forget the past. Falk’s presence stirs up memories of the past and the mystery of the girl’s unsolved death also hangs over the town.

Aaron initially believes that Luke’s death is somehow linked to what happened twenty years earlier. Working with the town’s rookie cop Raco (American actor Keir O’Donnell, from the tv series Fargo, etc) Aaron soon uncovers a web of lies, secrets and corruption. The town is full of tension and suspicion due to the brutal deaths, but also because of the harsh drought that has ruined many livelihoods.

A lot of the drama unfolds in a series of flashbacks to Aaron’s teenage years, and the deft editing by Nick Meyers and Alexandre de Franchesci melds the two different time frames together in seamless fashion.

Harry Cripp’s screenplay remains faithful to the source material, which will please the many fans of the novel. There are some nice twists in the plot, and a couple of red herrings that add to the mystery. The film has been nicely directed by Robert Connolly (Balibo, etc), reunited here with Bana, who starred in his drama Romulus, My Father in 2007.

This also marks Bana’s first homegrown film since then; he has been based in the US for he past decade appearing in big budget films like Lone Survivor and Star Trek. He has a strong presence and delivers a good performance as the conflicted and taciturn Aaron, who is forced to confront his painful past.

Connolly has assembled a strong ensemble supporting cast to flesh out the characters, including Genevieve O’Reilly (from Rogue One, etc) is Gretchen, a former childhood friend; Matt Nable; William Zappa plays Ellie’s belligerent alcoholic father; Miranda Tapsell (Top End Wedding, etc) is Raco’s wife; Eddie Baroo registers strongly as the genial barman McMurdo; while John Polson plays the local school principal.

Part generic police procedural, part examination of a community in grief, The Dry is a quality film from Connolly. Connolly has been mainly working in television; The Dry is his first feature film since the wonderful Paper Planes in 2014 and it is a strong and powerful drama that will resonate with local audiences. The film has been stunningly shot on location in the Wimmera region of rural Victoria by award winning cinematographer Stefan Duscio (The Invisible Man, etc), whose widescreen lensing captures the harshness and beauty of the land. Duscio has shot the film using a largely dusty, yellowish palette that suits the location and the gritty nature of the story, and you can almost taste the dusty soil.

★★★★

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