The Dry is a damn good Australian crime drama and is Eric Bana’s best performance since Munich.
Robert Connolly’s much-anticipated adaptation of Jane Harper’s The Dry is akin to great Australian crime dramas like Ray Lawrence’s Lantana. It’s a modern-day down under western with a dual mystery that has deftly layered themes of shameful secrets and traumatic regrets. It also happens to be Eric Bana’s best film and performance in over a decade.
Bana stars as Aaron Falk, a stoic Melbourne, Australia police officer who is coaxed to come back home after 20 years. His estranged best friend Luke (Martin Dingle Wall) and his family have been murdered. Luke’s parents (played by Julia Blake and Bruce Spence), beg him to investigate. They drop the bombshell that they believe it is linked to Aaron and Luke’s past. Aaron left The Dry after the unsolved death of a teenaged girl that the town believes he and Luke had something to do with and lied to cover it up.
Connolly and writer Harry Cripps’ screenplay skillfully juggles the dual mystery in The Dry. There is a John Sayles quality about the writing; similar to his 90s indie masterpiece, Lonestar. Each is a western set in a different period with an emotional undercurrent and an answer to a mystery that has yet to see the light of day.
Stefan Duscio’s stunning eye and cinematography give the appearance of a western. It’s a regional area that used to have rich farmland. Now, most of the water has dried out and it has lost the majority of its population. In the center of town, storefronts are mostly empty. Along with this dry heat, a tightly wound, coiled tension, like a snake ready to pounce, gives it that snap-at-any-moment feel.
The plot is well-paced. There are so many possible red herrings that you can’t possibly pick out who is guilty or innocent. Everyone in the script has a past has that puts them in some sort of distorted light. That’s the brilliance of Harper’s source material and the filmmaker’s adaptation: two murders to solve and a dozen suspects makes for endless possibilities to keep the viewers’ attention.
My only minor complaint was that its ending, while not completely wrapped in a bow, didn’t have closure for its protagonist. In Lantana, if you have seen the film, you’ll know what it is I’m talking about. That character played brilliantly by Anthony LaPaglia had an emotional release with a devastating effect. I wish Bana was given the same opportunity here.
Bana’s performance in The Dry immediately brings back comparison of his earlier work. He showed so much promise in films like Munich and Black Hawk Down. His performance here is a good one. He may start to fulfill the potential career of starring in good films many envisioned for him.
The Dry is remarkably well put together. The script has very few of the cracks that the shots of the dried-out farmland in the center of the antipode land of Oz would suggest. So many of the film’s characters are extremely complex; each has a weathered appearance from a secret they carry that has slipped through those voids. It’s a damn good Australian crime drama.