Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Dry: Drought and Crime in Oz

In ancient times, drought was considered a sign of the gods’ displeasure. That could still be true in rural southeastern Kiewarra. A struggling farmer has just committed an especially gruesome murder-suicide, rocking a community still haunted by a suspicious death that happened twenty years prior. Now, only guilt and suspicion grow on their lands in Robert Connolly’s The Dry, which is now playing in New York.

While in high school, Aaron Falk was widely suspected of killing Ellie Deacon, with whom he had just started a romantic relationship. The harassment became so intense, Falk was forced to leave town. After years serving as an investigator for the Federal Police, he has only now returned to Kiewarra, for the funeral of his old friend, Luke Hadler, who was also suspected of complicity in Deacon’s murder. Much to his elderly parents’ shock, Hadler allegedly shot his wife and teenage son, before driving out into the desert to kill himself.

Reluctantly, Falk agrees to stay on to investigate the incident. His status as a Fed duly impresses Sgt. Greg Raco, who might be inexperienced, but he still suspected there was something off about the crime scenes. Of course, Falk’s presence in town stirs up a hornet’s nest of hostility, but he also starts airing out a lot of long-buried secrets.

If you start watching
The Dry, make sure you have a fully stocked fridge or a jumbo movie theater soda at your disposal, because Connolly and cinematographer Stefan Duscio firmly ground the film in Kiewarra’s dusty soil. Their aerial shots capture the loneliness and ruggedness of the landscape, which looks like a modern-day dustbowl. It is bleak, yet eerily beautiful.

There is a vivid sense of place throughout
The Dry, but Connolly & Harry Cripps’ adaptation of Jane Harper’s bestselling novel is mostly rather by-the-numbers stuff. The contemporary mystery is okay, with some decent investigational elements, but when the truth comes out regarding Deacon’s disappearance, it is hardly much of a surprise. Frankly, the film works best as an examination of the jaded Falk, thanks in large measure to the quiet but magnetic intensity of Eric Bana’s performance. Yet, that is also why the constant flashbacks to the days leading up to Deacon’s death are so frustrating.

Nevertheless, Bana carries us through and he gets great support from Keir O’Donnell as Raco, while developing some intriguingly ambiguous chemistry with Genevieve O’Reilly, as Gretchen, who was also part of Deacon’s social circle. The sturdy conventionalism of
The Dry will not blow away many thriller fans, but it is the sort of grown-up movie a lot of people are thirsty for. Okay as a character study of Falk, The Dry is now playing in New York at the IFC Center and it is available “wherever you rent movies.”