Released: 1st January
Seen: 6th January
I hate to take you back there but at this point in 2020 my country was in… well, I’d say we were in hot water but actually we were in the literal opposite of water. The bushfires of late 2019 to early 2020 were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Sure, we have bushfires here a lot (Comes with having lots of bush and not as much water as we should have) but it was nothing like last year. Part of the reason we have such bad bushfires here is that we are a dry country, known for lengthy periods of drought. Droughts that lengthy can do some serious damage on little towns like Kiewarra, which is the setting for the Australian crime movie The Dry.
The Dry, based on the bestselling 2016 novel of the same name by Jane Harper, starts with the murder/suicide of the Hadler family. As far as everyone in the town is concerned, Luke Hadler killed his family before ending his own life in a dry river bed. At his funeral, one of Luke’s childhood friend turns up. Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) lived in Kiewarra when he was a kid, right up until his and Luke’s friend Ellie Deacon was found dead. The circumstances of that death led to Aaron being blamed for it within the town. Now Aaron is back but he’s been asked to help figure out just why Luke may have killed his family ot if he even did it at all. Aaron must uncover the secrets of this small town when no one trusts him… hell, after a year-long drought, no one trusts anyone.
In effect, The Dry tells a very small story, the kind that would probably be an episode of Blue Heelers back in the 90s, but it’s played as big as possible with all sorts of red herrings and twists along the way. It cleverly plants little clues throughout to both help the audience see what happened and to throw them off the big reveal at the end, showing the lies that litter this small town before culminating in a terrifying climax that every Aussie will be on the edge of their seat for. It takes its time to build to that climax but, when it gets there, it plays every card it has to make sure you’re engaged.
The Dry touches on several heavy subjects, from gambling debt to sexual abuse to small towns forcing people to remain in the closet. Each little topic is touched on realistically, without offering some cheesy forced resolution. It makes the world of The Dry feel real, like a real little town that has a lot to deal with that will linger long past the solving of this one crime. It’s a story that doesn’t offer a perfect happy ending because such a thing wouldn’t exist here. It’s dark and emotional but brilliantly done.
The Dry does move at a very slow pace, at nearly 2 hours long you could easily see them losing a solid 20 minutes with no harm done. Its pace is exhausting, like trying to walk uphill on a 40-degree day, but there are enough moments of greatness to make you want to get there (though I won’t deny that just around the third act before things kick-off and they start finally working out whodunnit, I was zoning out).
Maybe The Dry could’ve used fewer flashbacks, since every other scene seemed to cutback to this group of friends when they were kids and, while some of those scenes helped lay out why Aaron is the man he is, others just repeated things we’d been told and kinda slowed down the film. This made for a kind of jarring ending because the second they solve the case, everything is going a mile a minute (OK there’s one just comical slow-motion shot in the ending, but other than that it’s a fast sequence) but again, it’s still a fine movie.
The Dry is a great representation of how Aussie films can take something like a crime drama and adapt it to our surroundings, making it both specifically Aussie but accessible enough that a wider audience can appreciate it. Even though it has a little bit of a timing issue, it’s still a genuinely impressive film that gives me hope that Australian films can keep growing, let’s make our industry bigger than just a place for Marvel to shoot its stuff on the cheap, OK?