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WHAT'S ON: The Dry — big city cop, small town whodunnit

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After a 20-year absence, a detective returns to his hometown for a funeral but finds himself caught in a murder mystery with ties to his past. With no cinemas open due to lockdown, Dan Jensen checks out this great Australian film now available for rent.

★★★★☆

THE DRY is a crime drama directed and co-written by Robert Connolly adapted from a novel by Jane Harper. Eric Bana stars as Australian Federal Police detective Aaron Falk, a man who revisits his drought-stricken hometown in regional Victoria to attend the funeral of a family, victims of an apparent murder/suicide. But upon looking deeper into the incident, he is drawn into a plot that ties into a tragedy from his past.

Often described as a slow-burner, The Dry is rich with atmosphere and enough intrigue from the opening scene to keep viewers engrossed for the whole two hours. The film handles dialogue delivery brilliantly, adhering to the golden rule of screenwriting — show, don’t tell. But there is an element of brooding darkness that hangs over the film, woven between the performances, the setting and the expert way in which flashback scenes play out congruently with the present-day story.

For the most part, the performances were flawless. Eric Bana rarely disappoints and here, he is at his best. While his character might be a tad two-dimensional, Bana still manages to keep Aaron Falk interesting enough to feel invested in him along his journey. Supporting him is the wonderful Genevieve O’Reilly as childhood friend Gretchen, a woman who inadvertently becomes integral to solving the mystery. The relationship between the two was both authentic and compelling and O’Reilly provides some light amid the dark subject matter.

But the standout supporting performance came from Matt Nable as Grant Dow, a local blue-collar loud-mouth with a grudge against Falk. Dow’s unrestrained performance made the character intimidating and dangerous, whether he be calm or at boiling point. Most of the other performances were outstanding, with the exception of the childhood counterparts of the main characters who felt a bit wooden, with the exception of BeBe Bettencourt (daughter of Baby Animals lead singer Suze DeMarchi). But despite a bit of lacklustre acting here and there, the story always kept things intriguing.

The setting of the fictional remote town of Kiewarra served well in enhancing the emotional detachment between the characters, some desperately craving physical connection. It’s not a completely barren outback setting, so the city cop character of Falk isn’t quite a fish out of water, but the location almost serves as a character in the story. And it also photographs beautifully, with real locations of Horsham, Castlemaine and the Wimmera Mallee region used for the production.

While The Dry has a lot going for it, the conclusion of the film’s mystery element does feel somewhat anti-climactic. Driven by some lazy and predictable clues, the resolution doesn’t quite feel as rewarding as it should be. On the flip side, the denouement of the flashback story felt far more interesting. But it’s still a ride worth taking, even if the destination falls a little flat.

Upon its release earlier this year, despite suffering from this pandemic-stricken world where cinemas are taking huge losses, The Dry still managed to pull in one of the highest-grossing opening weekends ever for an Australian film as well as the best debut for an independent film. By March, it had taken over The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert as the 14th highest-grossing Australian film of all time.

Sure, it may not be perfect, but if you’re after a deep, dark crime thriller with (mostly) excellent performances, some gorgeous cinematography and plenty of intrigue to keep you entertained, then definitely check out The Dry.

The Dry is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video for $6.99 or to purchase for $14.99.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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