Synopsis – Aaron Falk returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral. But his return opens a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl.
My Take – It is understandably quite hard to translate a 300+ pages book to a big screen feature which is often required to run for not more than 120 minutes, leaving work cut for both the writer(s) and the director adapting it.
Such is not the case of this new Australian film from director Robert Connolly and writer Harry Crips, an adaption of author Jane Harper’s excellent best-selling 2016 novel of the same name, which since its early-January release has managed to stay at the top of the continent’s box office, earning wide acceptance critically and commercially.
Hence proving once again that dark tales of small-town secrets continue to be to universally successful. Also because unlike the recently released ‘The Woman in the Window’ adaption, despite staying true to its source material, other than changing the protagonist’s written appearance, director Connolly and cinematographer Stefan Duscio (The Invisible Man) manage to bring life to author Harper‘s vision without compromising or butchering any elements of what made her tension filled thriller story so deliciously consumable.
As someone who had thoroughly enjoyed the book I couldn’t help but get sucked into the compelling and richly atmospheric drama that lays its pieces and suspects out on the table and slowly lets them settle into place as Eric Bana‘s protagonist slowly connects the dots between the two decades apart murders he is connected to.
Sure, the film is often dampened by its straightforward nature and might feel especially sedate in comparison to American standards of crime films, yet, Eric Bana’s empathetic performance and the impressive visuals ensure that this one remains a gripping-enough watch, even as it goes through a set of familiarity.
The story follows Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), an Australian Federal Police detective who has to return to his fictional home town of Kiewarra after spending twenty years away from it. Mainly as he has recently received a letter from Gerry Hadler (Bruce Spence), requesting him to come for the funeral of his childhood friend Luke (Martin Dingle Wall), who is presumed to have murdered his wife and young son before killing himself, sparing only his infant daughter, and alluding to a lie he knows they both Aaron and Luke told.
While the hometown return dredges up more old memories of the murder of his childhood friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt), for which he was blamed as his alibi was suspicious, and driven out of town by her father (William Zappa) and brother (Matt Nable), who still bear a grudge against him, yet upon Barb (Julia Blake) and Gerry’s insistence he decides to stay for a while, catching up with his childhood friend Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), and unofficially assisting fresh-faced local officer Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell) on the case which just doesn’t seem to add up. Naturally, the whole town is on edge. But the fact the community has been in the grip of a punishing drought for a decade only heightens the tensions.
The film also often cuts back to the days surrounding Ellie’s death, adding tension to the present-day investigation as we wonder whether Luke or Aaron did in fact kill the girl, or play any part in her death. Here, director Connolly doesn’t waste a second and every scene feeds into a larger narrative palette. Though he has streamlined sections of the book, purists of Harper’s novel needn’t worry that anything has been lost in translation.
Thankfully, both the criminal cases are engrossing. The supposed murder-suicide situation is a labyrinthine, with paths that intersect with almost everyone in the close town and with suspects in all directions, while the death of the teenage Ellie from two decades ago takes on a depth of sadness as it goes along. Separating the two timelines with a distinct feeling afforded to both allows the film to cover a heft of flashbacks without sacrificing momentum.
Indeed, the feature is awash with imagery that is designed to reinforce that Aaron and everyone he once knew are all caught in the same dilemma. And whilst there may not be similar characteristics shared between both versions of Aaron, the differences feel deliberate given that what he experiences as a teenager has evidently shaped and transformed him into a harder, more reserved man in the present.
Cinematographer Stefan Duscio wonderfully captures the setting’s dry desperation and handles the contrast between the dryness of the film’s present and the wetness of its scenes from the past brilliantly. The prominent fields, which appear constantly also solidify the point, that offer a constant reminder of the town’s struggles as the drought continues. And the music score by Peter Raeburn perfectly complements director Connolly’s moody atmospherics.
Performance wise, Eric Bana is excellent in the leading role, a man haunted by his past now compelled to right past wrongs, even if he digs up pain in the process. In his first homegrown role since 2007’s Romulus, My Father (produced by Robert Connolly), Bana gives a stern, internalized and deeply felt performance, and even when the feature’s twists begin to prove predictable, he remains a hardy anchor.
In supporting roles, Keir O’Donnell brings a natural likability to the role, while Genevieve O’Reilly reels in a pleasant turn. On the contrary both Matt Nable and James Frecheville are despicably a joy to watch. In smaller roles, John Polson, BeBe Bettencourt, Sam Corlett, Joe Klocek, Claude Scott-Mitchell, Miranda Tapsell, Martin Dingle-Wall, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Julia Blake and Bruce Spence are also good. On the whole, ‘The Dry’ is a consistently engrossing tension-laced thriller that stays true to its source material.
Directed – Robert Connolly
Rated – R
Run Time – 117 minutes