Suitably gripping from the opening images of the bloody aftermath of a supposed murder-suicide – made all the more unsettling to the sounds of an infant crying – Robert Connolly‘s The Dry, an adaption of Jane Harper’s best-selling novel, is a tension-laced thriller that stays true to its source material.
The murder-suicide that initially garners focus centres on Luke Hadler (Martin Dingle Wall) who has supposedly murdered his wife and son, before killing himself, in a fit of rage. Understandably rocking the (fictional) small, drought-ridden town of Kiewarra in Regional Victoria in the process, Hadler’s questionable past is brought to the surface once more with the arrival of his childhood friend, Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), now a Melbourne-based officer, who is asked to investigate the case; Luke’s parents (Bruce Spence and Julia Blake) convinced that Luke couldn’t have done this to his family.
Luke’s own questionable past is tied directly to Aaron – Sam Corlett and Joe Klocek playing the two in their 1990’s set teen years – and uncovering a note that states someone is aware of a lie the two told all those years ago secures Aaron’s involvement in Luke’s case, but just what it connects to is another story entirely. Separating the two timelines with a distinct feeling afforded to both allows The Dry to cover a heft of flashbacks without sacrificing momentum. And whilst their may not be similar characteristics shared between Klocek and Bana’s interpretation of Aaron, the differences feel deliberate given that what he experiences as a teenager has evidently shaped and transformed him into a harder, more reserved man in the present.
Despite the vastness of the Victorian landscape – as drought-ridden as the town in, it’s still a beautiful looking film – there’s an intimacy to the way in which Connolly presents the story. Prejudice and rage has clearly been pent up in much of the town’s population, and Aaron’s re-emergence has only ignited it so, which plays into the narrative’s hook of everyone feeling like a valid suspect; Genevieve O’Reilly‘s childhood friend, Gretchen, Matt Nable‘s aggressive Grant, and James Frecheville‘s surly farmer Jamie all harbouring enough suspicion throughout as potential targets.
At the centre of all the film’s quiet chaos is Bana, maintaining a suaveness to his delivery and movements throughout. Haunted by his past, and seemingly troubled by his present, Bana’s take on Aaron is void of any showy acting moments, instead letting his almost whisper of a voice command the narrative. It’s a slow burn but he’s more than an adequate guide, and The Dry is indeed a stronger film because of his involvement.
Literally and metaphorically adhering to a tinderbox mentality, The Dry is neatly paced, smartly written, and consistently engrossing. Though Connolly has streamlined sections of the book, purists of Harper’s novel needn’t worry that anything has been lost in translation. This is engaging stuff, made all the more thirst-quenching thanks to the stoic intensity of Bana, whose return to Australian cinema couldn’t feel any more welcome.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Dry is screening in Australian cinemas from New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2021.