With so much talent involved it’s a real shame that Dirt Music is unable to chart above underwhelming mediocrity, framing its narrative around a far more interesting back-story that is only sporadically hinted at.
Based on the best-selling novel by Australian scribe Tim Winton, and adapted for the screen by Jack Thorne (Enola Holmes, TV’s His Dark Materials), Dirt Music focuses on the relationship between Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) and Lu (Garrett Hedlund), two broken Australians who meet by chance in the early hours of a stunning Western Australian morning; she’s out for an early swim, he’s hauling in a school of fish.
It isn’t long before they can’t keep their hands off each other – their first sexual encounter, whilst somewhat understandable, doesn’t exactly justify the supposed love they eventually feel for each other – and this would be all well and good if Georgie wasn’t with Jim (David Wenham), an emotionally distant fisherman, who doesn’t take too kindly to Lu’s illegal poaching. This coincidental pairing suggests much melodrama, and many films have risen above such narrative tropes before, but Dirt Music fails to do so in even the most basic, entertaining manner.
Whilst the film initially paints itself as a lovers-on-the-run-type drama, with Georgie and Lu seeking an escape from their own lives, their tragic pasts soon come into play, with Lu’s playing out in a series of flashbacks that provide far more interest than what we ultimately get, which is mostly Lu roaming aimlessly around the Australian outback; though, to its credit, it’s an absolutely stunning picture to look at, with the Western Australian landscape upstaging every other element throughout the running time.
Lu’s past as a musician (famed Australian folk singer Julia Stone has a brief turn as his musically-inclined sister-in-law) having ties to Jim’s own background – which makes Lu and Georgie’s relationship all the more important – lends the film a captivation it’s never able to execute successfully, and it’s certainly not for a lack of trying as Macdonald and Hedlund do what they can with admittedly trite dialogue (their shaky Australian accents also fault them at times), and Wenham is uniformly fine in a difficult role that he manages to imbue with a sense of humanity in spite of his unlikeable nature.
Lacking both the passion and the raw sexuality that should bathe the central story, Dirt Music feels like a film that’s too engrossed in its soundtrack and its locations, leaving its story as more of an afterthought. There’s beauty to be seen constantly, but the surface-level attractiveness is unable to distract its audience from the story’s lack of depth.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dirt Music is screening in most Australian cinemas from October 8th 2020, with advanced screenings from October 2nd – 5th.