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The Dry

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Feeling like a failed Australian after having foolishly ordered an American beer at the local outback bar.

Synopsis: Federal police agent in Australia investigates a murder-suicide in his hometown.

How satisfying to see Australian actors in films showcasing their precious island home and pleasantly rugged accents.

The Dry, based on Jane Harper’s same-titled book, stars Eric Bana as  Melbourne-based police agent Aaron Falk. He is not the sort of cop you see in movies who chases down perps and beats the stuffing out of them. Instead he is more of a desk jockey investigator.  

Aaron is from the fictional town of Kiewarra, where most people make their living off of farming and ranching. When there is water anyway. The Dry was filmed in rural Victoria, and apparently the weather cooperated for this story set during a drought. There are drone shots of cars whipping down country roads trailing tornadoes of dirt behind them and tractors plowing through bone dry soil. Unbelievably, from the stark landscape, wheat is supposed to grow on the farms. But with months of no precipitation, the locals pass the time shooting at any and all rabbits they see by day (they might eat the non-existent crops) and downing pints of beer at night. In one frightening scene, we see Eric Bana’s character Aaron sipping on a Budweiser. I mean, if you’re going to have an American beer, at least have a Sam Adams.

Aaron has to leave Melbourne and their blessed water supply to attend the funeral of a high school friend, Luke. He’s a persona non grata in Kiewarra…  Twenty plus years ago he and Luke  were swimming in  a creek with two girls, Gretchen and Ellie. Back then there were rains and the teens could enact the Australian ritual  of provoking crocodiles attacks by swimming in bodies of fresh water. Ellie was found drowned in the creek the next day.  Luke and Aaron said they had been out hunting rabbits (apparently a longstanding attempted genocide of the lagomorphs) when Ellie went missing. Be prepared that throughout the movie various people yell, whisper or message Aaron: You lied.

The first minutes of the movie are the crime scene… Luke murdered his wife (etcetera) before shooting himself. Most of the town & farm folk seem to think that Luke snapped because of the drought, but his parents insist that he didn’t do it. After the funerals, they plead with Aaron to look into the crimes.

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Observing the area’s transition from an agriculture-based economy to a dirt-based economy.

Aaron checks into the one  motel/tavern in town and gets to work. His room sucks and the bar looks like it sees nightly brawls. There is only one law official in town, Greg (Keir O’Donnell), an earnest newbie. He’s the sort of cop who realizes that the sight of blood makes them woozy only after they graduate from the academy. 

Aaron and Greg (no one named Greg will be solving any crimes) set about questioning everybody as to Luke’s mood and their own whereabouts. Aaron spends extra time with Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly) from high school. I wish that Naomi Watts had played this role, but she’s too much of a star for this smaller part. Besides, she was most likely filming  Penguin Bloom in New South Wales at that time. 

There aren’t a lot of available men in Kiewarra and Eric Bana is a tall glass of (hot) water, and hetero Gretchen is thirsty. It’s a drought in more ways than one around there. One day Aaron is questioning staff at the high school where Luke’s murdered wife worked when he runs into Gretchen. It doesn’t even seem that she works there– I think she just showed showed up when she heard that her old flame was at the school.  She invites him over to her place for a beer (of course) and even asks if he’d like to shoot rabbits in the dirt fields around her house. Again with the  bunno-cide? Come on!

What follows is a fast-paced, but  thoughtful mystery anchored by Eric Bana’s fine performance. (I knew he’d figure out what happened at Luke’s house and what happened at the creek decades ago.) Before long I was suspecting everyone what with their flimsy alibis and shifty looks —Watch out for that Granny! Who’s that kid on a bike?

Thankfully there is not much gore, but there was a truly horrifying moment when, after a day out in the hot, dry countryside, Aaron/ Eric Bana goes to take a shower and…Oh, Lord, some dribbling brown water, then…nothing. No water!!!! And he screams. I would too. Then I’d get in my airconditioned car and hightail it back to Melbourne for a nice refreshing shower. But our hero has no such luxury; he needs to solve the case with or without a shower.

Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:   B+

Cut to the Chase: Great atmosphere & a good mystery.

Humor Highlight:  All the guff given by the town’s salty old-timers.

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