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The Dry

Peter W Sheehan  |  22 December 2020

THE DRY. Starring: Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell, James Frecheville, Jon Polson, Bruce Spence, Joe Klocek, and BeBe Bettencourt. Directed by Robert Connolly. Rated MA15+. Restricted (Strong themes and violence). 117 min.

This Australian film is a thriller movie set in regional Australia and is adapted from the debut, award-winning mystery novel by Jane Harper, published in 2016. Eric Bana takes the lead role of a Federal Police officer, who returns to his home town after a long absence, and becomes caught up in the town’s prejudices and fears about criminal events that have occurred in the town.

It is Eric Bana’s first Australian film role in more than a decade since Romulus, My Father (2007). The movie has Australian actors in it, and is shot entirely on Australian locations within the Wimmera region of regional Victoria, about 300km north-west of Melbourne.

Australian Federal Police detective Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) has been absent from his home town for more than 20 years and returns to pay his respect to his best childhood friend, Luke Hadler, at the funeral of Luke and his family.

Falk’s fictional home town of Kiewarra is a struggling farm community, and Luke was reputed to have killed his wife and son, before taking his own life. Pressured by Luke’s grieving parents, who refuse to accept their son’s apparent murder-suicide, Falk reluctantly agrees to investigate the alleged crime, and his motivation gathers pace after he learns secrets that are held by those living in the town. Their stories arouse in him strong suspicions that Luke was not guilty of the terrible destruction of his family that occurred, but everyone in the town, including Aaron Falk, has lied in the past for some reason.

Falk teams up with the local detective (Keir O’Donnell), and in the course of the criminal investigation, a strong connection emerges between Luke’s death and the death of a 17-year old girl, Ellie Deacon (BeBe Bettencourt) in which he himself is implicated. The dark secrets of the town hide suspicions about who is responsible for Ellie’s death, and the town is gripped by a web of prejudices and guilt that express its mental torment. Falk has to clear himself, as well as Luke, of being involved in murder.

The plot of the movie is complex but tightly controlled by the film’s director, Robert Connolly, and Eric Bana plays the lead role in quiet, self-reflective style, and signals his conflict and determination by subtle use of verbal and nonverbal cues. He is helped appreciably by the acting skill of Jon Polson as an uneasy school principal; Joe Klocek as a young Aaron Falk; James Frecheville who holds secrets that motivate Falk; Bruce Spence as a bereaved father who pressures Falk to find the real truth behind the tragic loss of his son and his family; Genevieve O’Reilly as Gretchen, a childhood friend from Falk’s past, who stirs in Falk vivid memories of life in Kiewarra when Luke was alive; and Keir O’Donnell as the local detective, Raco.

The two crimes – the Hadler killings, and the murder of Ellie Deacon – are skilfully joined together with escalating tension by Robert Connolly in a plot that captures the spirit and heart of regional Australia. Viewers are shown depressed farmers desperately trying to survive in a parched land, ravaged by drought and bushfires, and holding prejudices about past events that are firm and unyielding.

The isolation of the small bush town is brilliantly reflected by the film’s cinematography which pinpoints precisely the dusty dryness of a stressed community living in a land that has seen no water for 324 days. As the story unfolds, the viewer never loses consciousness of the claustrophobic feel of wide open spaces that are psychologically constrained by the fears and anxieties that are gripping the town’s community.

This is a home-grown movie of quality that authentically captures the Australian spirit of Jane Harper’s best-selling novel. As a thriller, the movie builds its tension slowly to a devastating finale that ties its subplots together. Acting and cinematography are excellent, and frequent use is made of flashbacks. The film will touch a nerve in pandemic time that will resonate emotionally with what people in depressed regional communities have come to both know, and feel.

Roadshow Films
Released in cinemas 1 January 2021
Peter W Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media

 

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