Australian thriller ‘The Dry’ makes solid use of terrain, Eric Bana

Eric Bana has gangly features and the kind of small pinpoint dark eyes on a huge face that give him a cartoonish appearance. This makes him ideal when projecting horror (The Hulk), umbrage (Munich), and smugness (Funny People). He’s solid again in The Dry, a mystery in which Bana plays an Australian federal police officer called to the hometown he fled years earlier to figure out why a childhood pal killed his family and himself. Based on Jane Harper’s novel, The Dry is intermittently gripping, with a good feel for the sun-blasted wastes terrain Melbourne and how resentments have a tendency to warp the souls of men and women.

A bifurcated narrative, handled unevenly by director Robert Connolly, forces the audience to reconcile past and present. When Aaron Falk (Bana) returns to Kiewarra, he has his own infamy to live down. Many years ago Aaron’s girlfriend Ellie died under mysterious circumstances after she responds to a note asking to meet him by the river; the townspeople blame him despite the lack of evidence. Connolly cuts backward and forward in time as the young Aaron (played by Joe Klocek, who looks not a thing like Eric Bana) frolics with Ellie and his bros. It’s clear this marked the last moment of his happiness.

As humor-free as its title suggests, The Dry is one of those films whose use of filters, light, and landscape are weighed with portent. Thanks to drought Kierwara is a tinderbox. Aerial shots of the terrain to which Peter Raeburn adds a thundering, oppressive score underscore the symbolism (the film skirts the environmental questions invariably these shots ask). After years of living in the acting hinterlands, Bana does good work without sweating much; he projects the non-bullish masculinity of a Joel McCrea, the kind that isn’t too good to spray a good cologne on himself even if he’s spending any time outdoors. As Gretchen, a friend with benefits raising a child, Genevieve O’Reilly has an unaffected sensual vigor, especially when she and Bana sit on her porch in the twilight with wine.

The problem with The Dry is its sluggish pace. Learning the identity of the culprit comes as a bigger surprise to Aaron than to the audience. Their final confrontation reprises the Brad Pitt-Kevin Spacey’s from Seven without, thankfully, its eschatological pretensions. The Dry is a workmanlike thriller of the kind Hollywood studios churned out by the yard twenty years ago and often made their money back. Memorial Day weekend fare, in other words.

GRADE: B

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