Updated: Mar 3
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Eric Bana plays Australian federal agent Aaron Falk, who helps in the investigation of a shocking murder-suicide by a former high school friend.
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Blu-ray; 2021; R for violence and profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Multi-part making-of documentary
AUSTRALIAN ACTOR Eric Bana (“Munich,” “The Hulk”) gets to go home in more ways than one in “The Dry.” Based on a best-selling, award-winning 2016 first novel by Jane Harper, and adapted for the screen and directed by Robert Connolly, the film focuses on mysteries related to two separate killings spaced two decades apart.
Bana plays a federal agent named Aaron Falk, called back from Melbourne to the hometown he left 20 years before. He’s returning for the funeral of his former best friend Luke, but also to help Luke’s parents. As far as the town is concerned, Luke killed himself, his wife and son in a shocking murder-suicide. Luke’s parents are certain their son couldn’t have done it and trust that Aaron can find the real culprit and prove Luke’s innocence.
Meanwhile, Aaron is clearly unwelcome in the small town, and we eventually discover why. He had been forced to leave with his father 20 years earlier after being assumed responsible for the death of his teenaged girlfriend, who drowned in a river where the two had planned to meet. Frequent flashbacks juxtapose the two stories, as pieces of the puzzles slowly begin to fit together. The eventual denouements may be unsatisfying to some viewers, especially the particularly contrived way the solution to Ellie’s death is revealed.
(1-3) “The Dry” opens with a flashback of the murder scene, as Aaron Falk prepares to leave Melbourne for his drought-stricken hometown. (4&5) Aaron arrives at the funeral service and the parents (Gerry & Barb) of the suspected murderer don’t believe their son Luke killed his wife and son.
That said, the film contains excellent performances and the drama is quite compelling. The title refers to the terrible drought that has ravished the landscape and destroyed livelihoods in parts of Australia, providing an apt setting for the bleak stories that are gradually uncovered.
This IFC Films disc looks consistently excellent sourced from a 2K master, but captured on 8K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio), with lots of fine detail, saturated color and effective stylistic contrasts between the present-day and 20-years-past scenes, which were given a grainy 16mm look. Skin tones are natural, and depth of field is impressive.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio is also quite good, offering clear dialogue and realistic sound effects, as well as a tastefully understated score by Peter Raeburn. Subtitles are available.
The six-part making-of extra is filled with interesting information provided by Connolly, Harper, Bana, producers (Bana is also listed among them), and other members of the cast and crew. About the theme of the film, Bana says it, “Reminded me of the school reunion that no one wants to go to.” He notes that, added to the emotional trauma of Aaron’s return, is having to experience the drastic changes in the physical landscape of the area, covered in dried-up farmland and dusty riverbeds. Bana remarks that he loved filming on location in the Wimmera region of Victoria, where “the landscape holds mystery, intrigue, and deep roots.” He praises the local communities for being so “supportive, friendly and accommodating,” and was pleased that some of the residents got to be extras in the film and to work behind the scenes.
(1&2) Aaron returns to the dried up river where his high school girlfriend Ellie was found dead. (3&4) A flashback scene as young Aaron (Joe Klocek) sees Ellie’s body removed from the waters.
Harper repeatedly mentions how uncanny it was to have her book transformed into a film – seeing her characters “live a second life,” as well as how thrilled she was to be present on the set and be an extra during the funeral scene.
Connolly praises Harper’s “page-turner” novel and says he was struck by the “ensemble of characters” in it. He admits it was a “challenge to direct” a film with parallel crimes, since it wasn’t a genre he’d directed before. He wanted “the audience to go to the cinema and be excited by the journey – and think they can work out the mystery.”
He notes the very real cases of drought in areas of Australia, such as Victoria, that have been “devastated by global warming.” Connolly points to the differences shown in the film, with the lush landscapes of 20 years earlier, requiring a more vibrant color palette for costumes, etc., as opposed to the removal of color for the present-day scenes. He adds that “he really feels for the people in the region, and was glad to be able to bring some kind of economic injection to the local communities.”
Genevieve O’Reilly, who plays Gretchen – one of Aaron’s old friends who becomes a romantic interest – says she “feels fortunate to have gotten to meet the locals; the farmers shared their stories.” Producer Jodi Matterson discusses the two mysteries, and how two different filming techniques were used for the past and the present: 16mm for the past, using a handheld camera; and digital with a film stock texture for the present.
Nicci Dillon, the location manager, talks about the drought-affected areas where the film was shot, which she feels are still very beautiful. She notes how much the people there are struggling, but admired their resilience … “there’s a strong sense of community.”
— Peggy Earle
(1&2) Aaron looks on as local policeman Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell) reviews some CCTV footage for cues. And the two men explore a parched field where Luke’s body was found. (3) Aaron tries to comfort Luke’s grieving mother Barb (Julia Blake). (4) High school friend Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Aaron go on a date.
(1&2) Aaron interviews Scott Whitlam (John Polson) about the recent killings and then visits the gravesite for Luke, his wife, and oldest son. (3&4) Aaron visits Gretchen on her farm, as she shoots at invading rabbits. Then he gets his turn. (5) The two old friends continue to get reacquainted.
(1&2) Aaron and Greg race to find the prime suspect. They discover him threatening a potentially catastrophic suicide by fire. (3) Aaron finds and reads Ellie’s diary, which solves the mystery that has plagued him for years.