‘The Dry’ movie review: Eric Bana stars in drought-stricken Aussie crime drama

NOW STREAMING ON:

A Melbourne detective returns to hometown in the bush following a tragedy in The Dry, a richly evocative and entirely engaging new Australian crime drama from director Robert Connolly set on the brink of the raging fires that destroyed much of the landscape in 2019-20.

Adapted from the Jane Harper novel by the director and Harry Crips (Penguin Bloom), The Dry stars Eric Bana as Aaron Falk, a now-prominent big city detective who returns to his drought-stricken outback hometown after childhood friend Luke (played by Sam Corlett in flashbacks) kills his wife and son, and then himself.

Of course, Luke’s parents (played by Bruce Spence and Julia Blake) don’t believe their son could have committed such an act, and implore Aaron to stick around and ‘have a look at the books’, a request he feels obliged to honor.

But for Aaron, the hometown return dredges up more old memories: of the murder of his childhood friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt), for which he was blamed and driven out of town. And for which Luke concocted an alibi to protect him… or was it the other way around?

As Aaron digs into the murder of Luke and his family alongside local rookie detective Greg (Keir O’Donnell), he sees ties to the old case: could Luke have killed Ellie, too? Or could Ellie’s father (William Zappa) and brother (Matt Nable), who still bear a grudge against Aaron, have something to do with the murder of Luke and his family?

There’s no shortage of other suspects, too, including Luke’s new neighbor Jamie (James Frecheville), who coincidentally gives police the same alibi that Luke had long ago invented for Aaron: that they were out shooting rabbits. And childhood friend Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly) also seems to be hiding something.

The Dry is a thoroughly compelling and richly atmospheric drama that lays its pieces and suspects out on the table and slowly lets them settle into place as Aaron slowly connects the dots – real or imaginary – between the childhood trauma that changed the course of his life and the death of a friend that he can now help to solve.

Bana is excellent in The Dry’s leading role, a man haunted by his past now compelled to right past wrongs, even if he digs up pain in the process.

Hollywood never really did Bana right after his breakthrough performance in Chopper, but he’s a commanding presence in his first Australian outing since 2007’s underrated Romulus, My Father. Here’s hoping The Dry marks the start of a big screen resurgence for the actor after his enigmatic portrayal of a vicious conman in TV’s Dirty John.

But one of The Dry’s biggest strengths is its setting, a dried-up dustbowl where the presence of water is mostly a memory. Fires can be seen raging in the distance (filming took place in Victoria in mid-2019, just before bushfires ravaged the countryside) and the threat of flames igniting the tinderbox of a locale is employed during a memorable climax.

Cinematography by Stefan Duscio (last year’s The Invisible Man) wonderfully captures the setting’s dry desperation, and generates noirish vibes from the sun-drenched white and sandy tones that fill the screen. Nostalgic scenes set at a river that no longer exists due to drought are richly evocative.

Timely, engrossing, and satisfying in almost every regard, The Dry has become one of the highest-grossing films in its native Australia since its release in December 2020, and looks poised for success in international markets ahead of a release this year.

The Dry

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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