Friday, May 10, 2024

Force of Nature: The Dry 2

Everyone who saw the film The Dry (or read the novel) knows Aaron Falk’s teen years were difficult, before he joined the Australian Federal Police. It turns out, they were even worse. Falk has a new case, but it brings back even more painful memories in Robert Connolly’s Force of Nature: The Dry 2, also adapted from a Jane Harper novel, which opens today in New York.

For Falk, when it rains, it pours. Right about now a little drought wouldn’t sound so bad. Instead of the dry, dusty outback, Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper rushed to a rainy, lushly wooded national park in Victoria, where there whistleblowing informant disappeared during an annoying team-building retreat. Calling Alice Russell a “whistle-blower” is a bit of an understatement. Falk uncovered evidence she embezzled from her money-laundering conglomerate of shell companies, so he pressured her to photocopy incriminating documents for his investigation. He really put the screws to her before she left, so now he is feeling guilty.

Through a twist of fate, he understands the dangers of the fictional but highly representative Giralang Ranges. Years ago, he and his father desperately searched those woods for his mother, when she vanished during a family camping trip. Maybe coincidentally, the Giralangs were also home to a notorious serial killer, who might have still been active at the time of his mother’s disappearance.

Force of Nature, Connolly juggles three timelines, with a good deal of dexterity. There is grown Falk searching for Russell in the present day. Three days earlier, Russell sets off into the woods with a group of women from her office, awkwardly led by Jill Bailey, the wife of her corrupt corporate kingpin boss, Daniel. Falk also constantly flashes back to some twenty or thirty years ago, revisiting his desperate search for his mother.

Connolly’s largely faithful Falk adaptations certainly follow a thriller-like template, but they focus just as much, or even more on the difficult circumstances that drove the characters to take such desperate, nefarious measures. Frankly, that approach is more successful in
Force of Nature than it was for the somewhat overhyped The Dry.

Of course, Eric Bana is just as moody and intense reprising the role of Falk. However, he convincingly handles Falk’s more traditionally procedural duties this time around. He definitely looks, acts, and sounds like a Fed with a chip on his shoulder.

Probably the most complex character and performance is that of Anna Torv, as Russell, who is a dysfunctional mess of ethical compromises, personality flaws, human frailties, denial, and fear. Deborra-Lee Furness is also quite a force of nature as the formidable Jill Bailey. Unfortunately, Richard Roxburgh never has enough time to work up a full head of villainy as her crooked husband. Jacqueline McKenzie’s portrayal of Cooper is rather cold and perfunctory. However, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor brings a lot of humanity to the film, returning as Falk’s father Erik.

Force of Nature improves considerably on the decent The Dry, hopefully Connolly and Bana will also adapt Harper’s Exiles soon. Their momentum is going in the right direction. The newest Falk film is a solid thriller that easily stands alone. In many ways, it should appeal to fans of the under-appreciated 1980s outdoorsy manhunt film Shoot to Kill, but it is admittedly much more neurotic. Recommended for fans of Australian mystery and suspense, Force of Nature: The Dry 2 opens today (5/10) in New York, at the IFC Center.