★★★★ - STUFF
- A worthy cinematic adaptation of Jane Harper's award-winning novel -
In present day rural Australia, a couple of hours north of Melbourne, the rain hasn't arrived for a year.
The grasslands and wheat fields around the town of Kiewarra are a dustbowl. Cracked, baked clay ravines lay where rivers and waterholes once hosted the local teens.
Returning to Kiewarra after an absence of decades, the now big city cop Aaron Falk is in no mind to stay for long. But his once-best friend Luke is dead, after an apparent murder-suicide, in which he killed his wife and young son. With no other explanation seemingly at hand, Aaron and the rest of Kiewarra are prepared to accept the official version of events. But, something just doesn't add up.
Complicating matters a lot, at least half the town believe that Aaron and Luke were somehow complicit in the death of Aaron's girlfriend 20 years before. And that Aaron only left town in a hurry to escape the country justice that was coming his way.
Leading the charge is an obstreperous wee rooster by the name of Grant, who seems to have his own particular reasons for wanting Aaron run out of town.
The Dry is set – literally and metaphorically – in a tinderbox. Australian veteran Robert Connolly (Balibo) has taken the broad strokes of Jane Harper's award-winning debut novel, streamlined a few narrative arcs, but stays absolutely true to Harper's brilliant evocation of the land and the relentless heat as active characters within the story.
Everyone in The Dry is changed and propelled by the drought. The town's economy is hollowed out, its businesses are all bankrupt, or very near, the people – those who haven't left – are wearied, exhausted and often hostile. The land that surrounds them is a checkerboard of failed monoculture and mechanisation. As metaphors go, they don't get much more obvious or effective than Harper and Connolly's representation of this landscape.
As Falk agrees to “look into” a few aspects of the deaths, mainly as a favour for Luke's aging mother, the inevitable old wounds are opened up and old flames are rekindled. Falk may be wary of eating the seafood in Kiewarra's only restaurant, but the red herrings here are plentiful and thriving.
The Dry is an engrossing, smartly written and nicely paced thriller on a low burn. Connolly cuts back and forth between the historical and the current whodunits and only slowly lets us into their characters' secrets and agendas.
If the last 20 minutes seem to arrive in a bit of a lurid rush, it is only because Connolly has lulled us into believing that some of these people were ever safe around each other.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
The Dry is now playing at Light House Cinema!