The Dry Review: Bana leads a detailed and personal dual murder-mystery
The Dry brings viewers into a multi-layered mystery that’s able to subvert its questionable wrap-up and slow pacing with an incredibly detailed personal story lead by a great performance from Eric Bana.
The film, based on the book of the same name by Jane Harper, follows an Australian federal agent named Aaron (Bana) who return to his hometown in the middle of a major drought after a destructive tragedy rocks the entire town and opens decade-old wounds. In fulfilling the request of a long-time friend’s parents and hoping to restore some of the bad feelings towards him within the town, Aaron begins to look into the case of his friend Luke (Martin Dingle Wall) supposedly killing his wife and son and leaving his young infant Charlotte an orphan before committing suicide.
The dry spell that consumes Aaron’s hometown Kiewarra can instantly be felt in the great wide shots and cinematography from Stefan Duscio that show the barren wasteland the usual farming community has become. There are these great establishing shots that show the how this town has become a desert and you can feel the heat just from looking at Kiewarra and its residents. With the heat becoming a big threat to the town and drinkable water scarce, tensions are higher than ever and have made people volatile and aggressive – especially with Aaron’s return and this gruesome murder.
Aaron’s return to Kiewarra is far from a warm welcome with him not only having a good relationship with Luke, who the town now sees as scum because of the situation, but also for being suspected in lying about his involvement with the drowning of his friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt) when he was younger. These two mysteries are interwoven incredibly well and its great how Aaron’s return creates these palpable waves within the community.
Both the tragedy with Luke and his family and Ellie’s death, now decades later, have this profound effect on the community and it’s interesting to see people reel in different ways. People question the relationships within Luke’s family and whether they should’ve intervened. There’s a divide in how to exactly perceive Luke’s death given the circumstances and even towards how to treat Aaron in his return. While some accept his return, others seek to destroy him for their suspicions of him. Throughout the film, there are these great dissections into community grief and how some things just don’t stay dead that gives characters, no matter how big or small, great depth. There are also intriguing connections established between the two tragedies as Aaron digs a little deeper and it makes the film’s incredibly slow pacing that sometimes can drag things out a little too much more meaningful.
This is especially true for Aaron as the film makes him the sort of centerpiece between these two murders and Bana does an excellent job giving Aaron this brooding sense of guilt and determination. Although he tends to receive the brunt of people’s aggressions towards Luke and especially gets some harsh treatment from those who still hold him responsible for withholding information about Ellie, Aaron never loses his head. He really punishes himself more with how he’s constantly flashing back to his haunting past and Ellie’s death. Bana makes you feel all the guilt that Aaron carries with him and makes The Dry’s dual mysteries incredibly personal. This personal feel is actually what makes The Dry able to stave some of its “by the numbers” mystery feels and definitely one of the more impactful elements of the story.
As a whole, the two mysteries are told incredibly well with how they maintain their personal feel and slowly reveal answers. The film definitely takes its time in dolling out its information, sometimes to its own detriment, and builds out both its stories and characters in great detail. The use of flashbacks helps fill in the gaps of the past that haunts Aaron and makes you question if Luke snapped then like many believe he did now. Honestly, the mystery of it all remains interesting throughout, but comes with some weak answers. Don’t get me wrong, the resolution makes sense and is built well while maintaining the personal connection to Aaron and his time back in Kiewarra. Even the impact the resolution has on the community and Aaron is really interesting, but the answers just come off a little underwhelming.
Even with some sluggish and underwhelming elements, The Dry creates a personal murder-mystery that excellently intertwines two interesting and devastating tragedies and sees Bana delivers an excellently memorable lead performance.