It’s been four years since I’ve seen actor Eric Bana in a film, and the film was one (Guy Ritchie’s appalling King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) I didn’t even remember Bana was in. He’s always someone whose slow burn I appreciate in certain roles, but he’s also capable of great sensitivity and never getting lost in trying to be overly smoldering or tough, which seems to make him excel at both, ironically. His latest work, The Dry, is a return to his Australian roots, playing Federal Agent Aaron Falk, who returns to his bone-dry desert home town that hasn’t seen a drop of rain in nearly a year and hasn’t had any substantial rain for more than a decade. There’s some question as to whether Falk left town or was run out when he was a teenager, after 17-year-old Ellie Deacon (a girl he was on the verge of dating) disappeared and turned up dead shortly after she was supposed to meet him at a favorite river spot where teens often went, before the river dried up.
Although nothing was proven, there are some who think Falk killed her (including the girl’s family), but most believe he was a good kid whose alibi wasn’t exactly solid, but he was no murderer. The cause of Falk’s return is the funeral of his childhood best friend Luke, who apparently killed his wife and child before turning the gun on himself, leaving only a newborn alive in their home. Luke’s parents beg Falk to stay and prove that their son didn’t do this, and he decides to do a little poking around and revisit his old stomping grounds. At this point, the film becomes a fairly standard whodunit, about as dry as the title might suggest. But the timelines bounce back and forth between the present and 20-some years earlier, as Falk begins to see parallels between the two crimes and wonders if there’s a connection, or perhaps even a serial killer, involved.
Based on the popular novel by Jane Harper, The Dry is about new wounds ripping open old ones as Falk moves from person to person, house to house, being greeted by all manner of reception, but noticing that even those who are still kind to him have hardened and become paranoid or despondent because the town is dying before their eyes. As directed by Robert Connolly (Paper Planes), the film has a solid mystery at its core (two actually) as several members of the community could be seen as suspects. The local law tries to help Falk as best it can, but they simply aren’t used to dealing with so much death.
Both storylines are heartbreaking for different reasons, and honestly, I was a bit disappointed at the way they reveal Ellie’s killer, partly because it feels wedged into the movie’s final moments in too neat and clean a way, and partly because the film would have been more tragic and artful if that mystery had never been solved. Some questions are more intriguing when they’re left unanswered, and the mystery of Luke’s family’s death is already convoluted enough for three films. Still, Bana’s sturdy central performance kept me locked into the ins and outs of this hollowed-out community, and it’s fascinating the way he genuinely doesn’t give a crap who thinks he’s guilty or not. It doesn’t change the way he treats them, shows the nobility of his character and is the only proof we really need that he couldn’t be (and isn’t) guilty. I sometimes forget how strange and wonderful I’ve always found Australian crime dramas to be, and The Dry brought me right back to what I’ve always admired about them—the characters and locations are unlike any others in the world.
The film is open for a limited theatrical run, including at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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