Eric Bana leads a small-town investigation to the top of the Australian box office
Dir/scr. Robert Connolly. Australia. 2020. 117 mins.
Charting the fallout from a tragedy that rocks a drought-stricken rural community and its links to traumatic events decades prior, The Dry is adapted from Jane Harper’s best-selling novel of the same name. Centering on a police officer who makes a grim homecoming, then investigates the current case, this solid crime drama gives Eric Bana his first homegrown role since 2007, which no doubt has helped it stay on the top of Australia’s box office since its early-January launch. While little here eschews genre conventions, Bana’s weathered performance and striking work by DoP Stefan Duscio ensure that this is a gripping-enough watch, even as it ticks a torrent of familiar boxes.
The Dry is often dampened by its straightforward nature
The Dry is next slated for a US theatrical and on-demand release in May via IFC, where Bana’s familiarity from Black Hawk Down through to TV series Dirty John should be its biggest drawcard. Dark tales of small-town secrets have long proven universal, however, as has cop fare set against stunning backdrops. With its parched fields baked by the sun and drought to a pale golden hue, the film’s impressive visuals should also earn a broader audience via streaming.
Bana plays Aaron Falk, who grew up in the fictional Kiewarra, but has stayed away since his teenage years. He reads about a suspected murder-suicide involving his childhood best friend in a note which begs him to return and address the truth behind his departure all that time ago. Thanks to his successes in Melbourne in the years since, Falk’s reputation precedes him, but few locals have forgotten his connection to another death 20 years earlier. Still, when the bereaved Barb and Gerry Hadler (Julia Blake and Bruce Spence) ask him to clear their son’s name now, he unofficially starts assisting fresh-faced local officer Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell) on the case.
Scripted by Paper Planes and Balibo filmmaker Connolly with Penguin Bloom screenwriter Harry Cripps, The Dry drip-feeds the pieces from two puzzles: the events surrounding the present situation, which are never as simple as the townsfolk think; and the ghosts from the past that still trouble Falk and Kiewarra alike. Flashbacks are led by Joe Klocek (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) as the sensitive teen version of Falk, and here, The Dry also spins a tumultuous coming-of-age tale.
These jumps backwards are tinted with equal parts affection and heartbreak; as with much in The Dry, they are torn in two directions. Indeed, the feature is awash with imagery that is designed to reinforce that Falk and everyone he once knew are all caught in the same dilemma. Those prominent fields, which appear a little too often, certainly solidify the point — though eye-catching, they offer a constant reminder of the town’s struggles as the drought continues.
Connolly repeatedly frames Bana against stark spaces, including crops far and wide, quiet streets and eerily vacant houses, and the actor knows how to fill that emptiness with a haunted gaze. His is a stern, internalised and deeply felt performance, and even when the feature’s twists begin to prove predictable, he remains a hardy anchor.
The Dry is well acted all-round, with Genevieve O’Reilly (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) bringing warmth as well as resolve to the most significant female role, and both Matt Nable (1%) and James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom) perfecting the insular rage that has showered down upon the town in the absence of rain. But, in one instance, the film’s casting says more than it should — because, while it pours out a thorny story and plunges into complex characters, The Dry is often dampened by its straightforward nature.
Production companies: Made Up Stories, Arenamedia, Pick Up Truck Pictures
International sales: Cornerstone Films, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson
Screenplay: Robert Connolly, Harry Cripps
Editing: Nick Meyers, Alexandre De Franceschi
Cinematography: Stefan Duscio
Production design: Ruby Mathers
Music: Peter Raeburn
Main cast: Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell, John Polson, Julia Blake, Bruce Spence, Matt Nable, James Frecheville, Joe Klocek