June 8, 2021 The Dry (Movie Review)
In select theaters and on demand/digital Friday, May 21, 2021, The Dry is the latest feature from Australian Director Robert Connolly (Three Dollars 2005, Balibo 2009). Released through IFC Films, it based on a best-selling novel by Jane Harper and marks the return of Eric Bana (Hulk 2003, Munich 2005) to features of his homeland in one of the best performances of his career.
It is somber Crime Mystery spanning over 20 years, set against the backdrop of a rural town left behind by industrialization and which has not seen a drop of rain in nearly a year. The story follows Federal Agent Aaron Falk (Bana), who returns to his dusty hometown of Kiewarra to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke (Martin Dingle-Wall: Happy Hunting 2017, Eden series). It seems that Luke has killed his wife, young son, and himself in a horrific tragedy that shocks the already battered town, leaving only his baby daughter alive. But as we quickly learn, this tragedy may not be what it seems. Compounding this is the second mystery; Aaron and his father left town 20 years ago amid harassment when he was blamed for the death of his childhood friend, Ellie. The town has not forgotten, and Aaron is harassed constantly on his visit.
Aaron is not without allies, however. His childhood friend Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly: Avatar 2004, Rogue One 2016), the other remaining member of their circle and now single mother trying to stay afloat, and Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell: American Sniper 2014, Incarnate 2016), an honest, local police sergeant looking for answers. Since Aaron is there on personal, not official, business, Raco is needed to help him navigate both present and past as he tries to find out the truth of the murder-suicide, as well as what really happened to Ellie all those years ago.
Finding a balance between the past and present mysteries is not an easy task, and while The Dry is not without its faults, it is not generic and does a excellent job of setting up Kiewarra as a volatile town of dark secrets, stuck in its own past while some residents try to move forward in life, with differing results. Much of what is shown here can be seen in many small towns in America; economic downturn, a local populace beaten down by their disappearing prospects and future, weather impact, and an overall air of bitterness that turns inward when it cannot find a viable external target. An American audience can likely relate to these things in their own way.
As mentioned, Eric Bana is excellent in his role and really carries the film. He plays Aaron with a consistent feeling of remorse underneath whatever he is doing at the time. Aaron is just like the rest of the Kiewarra residents despite leaving 20 years ago – anchored to a time in his life when possibilities were endless yet lamenting both choices and fate that happened along the way. O’Reilly is also very strong as Gretchen, one of the few characters in the town who hasn’t lost her humanity and managed to hold onto some of her youthful exuberance that she was known for as the good-natured soul of the group. Her interactions with Aaron are the humanity of the story. There is a solid cast of supporting character actors including Bruce Spence (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior 1981, Dark City 1998) that complete the dusty grit of Kiewarra and give it a truly tangible presence throughout the film.
The Dry is a bit long at just under 2 hours, and while it cannot be described as an exciting ride, the performances keep it from dragging much. This is a two-part mystery, and it takes some time to unravel the answers despite Kiewarra being a small town with a small population who all know each other. It is never boring, but perhaps a bit frustrating by design in some places as Aaron faces hostility from the residents.
Overall, it is a solid Crime Mystery that fans of such stories will enjoy. It is unconventional enough to separate it from a run-of-the-mill detective yarn, and is supported by very strong performances and an excellent setting that will keep you guessing until the end. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives The Dry 4 out of 5 stars.