Film Review: ‘The Dry’ Gets a Hit and a Miss

Australian director Robert Connolly sets this mystery/thriller in a small town in the middle of drought-stricken Australia, basing his movie on Jane Harper’s best-selling crime novel of the same name. The dry and cracked landscape surrounding Kiewarra  reflects the parched souls of several of its inhabitants. Plot twists and red herrings galore make the several mysteries in this film often difficult to follow, but Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk, as portrayed by seasoned actor Eric Bana, makes us care about him and his challenges in solving the crimes.

Eric Bana (left) stars in “The Dry.”

Aaron had grown up in Kiewarra and had a girlfriend, Ellie Deacon (BeBe Bettencourt), who drowned mysteriously in a nearby river. Gossipy and often malicious townspeople suspected Aaron of foul play in Ellie’s abrupt drowning. Because of this toxic environment, Aaron left the small town and moved to Melbourne where he carved out a successful career in police work. Twenty years later, he is returning to attend the funeral of a former teenage pal, Luke Hadler (Martin Wall), found dead in an apparent murder and suicide. Luke’s wife and son were killed before the gun was turned on him. Only a baby is left alive, crying in her crib.

Aaron heard about the triple tragedy from Luke’s parents who are eager for him to come to Kiewarra because they suspect that their son had not committed suicide but had been a murder victim himself. Because of loyalty to his old friend and because he would like to clear his own name of any previous suspicions, Aaron remains in Kiewarra even after the funeral service and reception. He holes up in the town’s one small hotel.

At this point, we get many flashbacks to the friendships and events from twenty years earlier. About one third of the movie unfolds through these flashbacks, which are occasionally confusing in content and detail.  Aaron does reconnect with one of the young people he had palled around with—Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly).

Although the romance that we feel might develop between them does not occur, Gretchen does provide vital information that helps in solving the mystery of who might have killed Luke and disguised it as a suicide.  With the continued interplay of past and present events, Aaron is also able to uncover the cause of Ellie’s mysterious drowning twenty years earlier.

Eric Bana, with his strong face and confident stride, creates a riveting protagonist that we don’t soon forget. The actor had appeared in some mainstream films earlier in this century—“Black Hawk Down,” “Munich,” and “Star Trek”—but has been doing mostly television work since then. We hope to see him starring in more films.

Also notable in “The Dry” is the barren landscape that its title implies. Parched land and dead trees contrast to the flashback scenes where an ample river provided a swimming hole for teenagers and leafy trees provided shade. In Aaron’s present hotel accommodation we see his chagrin when his anticipated shower turns out to be a few rust-colored drops of water. The words climate change are not uttered but a less-than-hopeful mood prevails throughout the town of Kiewarra.

This film is available through Video on Demand.