Robert Connolly’S “The dryness” is a moody, atmospheric and not entirely successful mystery thriller that offers another opportunity to ask one of the pressing cinematic questions of our time: How is it? Eric Bana still not a huge movie star in America? He presented himself a Steven Spielberg Film (admittedly “Munich”Reception was… complicated), he pretended a wonder Film (admittedly “Hulks“The reception was … mixed), he’s done comedy and drama and horror and romance, and while his name stays above the title, he never really meant anything to audiences on those shores.
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“The dryness” finds him back in his native Australia, under the direction of the native Robert Connolly, who also co-wrote the script (adapted from Jane HarperNovel). The opening images are gruesome and captivating: an isolated farmhouse filled with a baby’s screams, blood on the walls, flies buzzing corpses on the floor. It was a murder-suicide, a man who killed his wife and child (but spares the child) before turning the gun on himself.
“Actually, I’m an old friend of Luke,” explains Aaron Falk (Bana) when he shows up at the funeral. They grew up together in Kiewarra, a small outback town, though he left as a teenager and is now a hot federal agent. But Aaron is haunted by their shared past, and since the picture opened, that story has been mixed with flashbacks to their youth. a girl drowned and one or both of them could have been responsible.
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Aaron’s unsolved guilt makes him more receptive to Luke’s parents, who insist that Luke didn’t commit this gruesome act – he could never Do something like that – and beg him to investigate the rampage. And so we have a double mysterious framework that connects what happened then with what happened now, underscoring the long shadow that the past casts over the present and how many old wounds have not yet closed. “Do you think you will learn the truth in a city like this?” Aaron is asked pointedly. “When you’ve lied about something for so long, it becomes second nature.”
This type of narrative channel surfing is paradoxically easier to sustain over the course of a novel than a two-hour film; The secrets of teenage history are pulled out with a taffy freeze, and while it’s silly to mention anything in a mysterious story manipulativeIn the second half of the picture, it actually feels like they’re just playing with us. What is even more important is that the switching operations repeatedly interrupt the emotional continuity of both stories. And the solutions, when they come, are a little hard to swallow in different ways. (Connolly also enters into an unsettling brutality at the end – a flashback we don’t need to see, at least not in the service of a psycho-pop thriller. A movie has to deserve a sequence that is extremely dangerous; you don’t.)
But a lot works here. The pace is intentional, but not indulgent, and Stefan DuscioThe cinematography captures the vast, cracked landscapes of the drought-ridden outback with subdued awe. Connolly’s wise reliance on lingering close-ups allows Duscio to treat the actors’ faces in the same way, giving the image a crisp, factual quality, even when indulging in some unfortunate visual clichés. Even an actor with Bana skills can’t pull off the old “waking up from a nightmare” thing like it’s fresh.
But, you know, points for trying. Bana is one of the producers of “The Dry,” and it’s not hard to see why he wanted to play the role that is specific to his specific talents – his strong mix of rugged physicality and barely bottled emotions. Connolly is a director patient enough to let us absorb the pain this man has on his face and the calm power in his eyes. But, as always, there is an ability for darkness in Bana’s characterization, a weak indication that he hides an unthinkable secret that adds tension to the past-tense mystery than it probably deserves. That’s exactly the kind of duality that might have made him too complex for conventional celebrity. But maybe that’s for the best. Many compelling actors have short-circuited promising careers to play superheroes. Bana is doing something more interesting these days. [B-]
“The Dry” arrives at select theaters and VOD on May 21st.