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Screen Themes: The Dry vs Wonder Woman 84

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As we try to balance the lure of the silver screen with the convenience and safety of streaming, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out two recent cinematic releases.

The Dry (2020)

Directed by Robert Connolly

BASED ON the novel by Jane Harper, The Dry tells the story of federal cop Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) as he returns to his drought-afflicted rural hometown after 20 years. Aaron is there to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke (Martin Dingle Wall), accused of killing his family in a murder/suicide but is drawn back into a web of deception surrounding the death of 17-year-old Ellie Deacon 20 years earlier.

Set in rural Victoria, The Dry perfectly captures the casually brutal nature of country Australia wracked by drought. Director of photography Stefan Duscio works in washed-out tones of muted brown and grey, the landscape bleached of colour by the unrelenting sun. The cast is a who’s who of quality Australian actors like Matt Nable, Miranda Tapsell, Bruce Spence and John Polson, but it’s the leads – Eric Bana and Genevieve O’Reilly – who carry the film’s emotional weight.

O’Reilly plays Gretchen, the lynchpin in the teen friendship group shared with Aaron, Luke and the murdered Ellie. When Aaron fled to the city under suspicion of the crime, Gretchen stayed behind and tried to keep everything together, and O’Reilly portrays her with a subtle blend of deep-seated resentment and dry country humour. Bana is also superb as the tortured Aaron, his stoic exterior hiding a simmering rage.

Amusingly, while the movie is remarkably true to the source material, the book’s description of Aaron Falk as a gangling near-albino suggests Stephen Merchant may have been more apt casting than Eric Bana, but I’m happy that they made the switch. It’s also worth pointing out that the teen versions of Aaron (Joe Klocek), Luke (Sam Corlett) and Gretchen (Claude Scott-Mitchell) essay their roles well, but BeBe Bettencourt shines as the beautiful, doomed Ellie Deacon.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Directed by Patty Jenkins

The story of Wonder Woman 1984 is pretty much all in the title. Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) has been in seclusion since the end of World War 1 — which is why she didn’t take out Hitler, I guess. But now it’s 1984 and she’s back for some reason and so is her one true love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) despite him having been killed (rather than just got really old) between movies. After trying on some fabulous '80s clothes, they fight a bad guy (Pedro Pascal) and his lackey (Kristen Wiig) and save the world.  All of this takes two and a half hours.

Let’s start with the positives. Apart from the opening sequence (which feels like a video game cutscene), Wonder Woman 1984 looks great. Gal Godot continues to be a charming presence on screen and Chris Pine takes a role that really shouldn’t work and turns it into something decent. The '80s fashion montage is super fun and there are a couple of nice nods to the comic… but that’s about all I can come up with.

As to what’s wrong with WW84, let’s start with the villains, as it’s the Joker who makes the Batman. Pedro Pascal – so good in The Mandalorian and Narcos – seems to be trying to channel Nathan Fillion’s sleazy charm, while Kristen Wiig turns a female empowerment sub-plot into a YouTube cat makeup tutorial, replete with "beautiful nerd" clichés. Playing in-name-only approximations of DC villains Max Lord and Cheetah, it’s safe to say that this isn’t the movie that Pascal or Wiig will want to be remembered for.

In terms of length, 2017’s Wonder Woman ran out of steam well before the two-hour-21-minute runtime and the same is true of WW84 at ten minutes longer. The opening flashback is entirely unnecessary (despite the presence of Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen), the pacing is uneven and the final fight scene falls into the same poorly-rendered CGI overkill of so many comic book films.

The Verdict

I understand if you’re not keen to go to the movies at the moment. If you live in a hotspot, it’s definitely a good idea to stay home. But I love watching movies on the big screen. I can even enjoy watching bad movies on the big screen — although not as much as some of my friends.

Which brings me to Wonder Woman 1984. While this is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, I’m still glad I saw it on the big screen. If you enjoy bright colours and have the ability to look past some ropey storytelling and hammy performances, WW84 could be a fun couple of hours at the movies.

The Dry, on the other hand, has had one of the strongest openings of an Australian film in history. While this may be in part due to the lack of quality competition (see above), the fact remains that The Dry is an exceptional Australian film. See it on the big screen if you get the chance.

The Dry – 9/10

Wonder Woman 1984 – 5/10

John Turnbull is Independent Australia's entertainment editor, a writer, balloon pilot and tattoo aficionado.

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