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The Dry

Year: 2020
Production Co: Made Up Stories
Director: Robert Connolly
Producer: Robert Connolly/Eric Bana
Writer: Harry Cripps/Robert Connolly
Cast: Eric Bana, Genevieve O'Reilly, John Polson, Bruce Spence, Matt Nable, James Frecheville

I wasn't expecting so much of a potboiler as this movie turned out to be, but it was better for it – it leaned heavily into the aesthetic a lot of Australian films always have of favouring flavour over story and I thought it was going to be about the dry, a vague mystery somewhere in the background while most of it was concerned with social issues endemic to small town Australia.

Melbourne cop Aaron (Eric Bana) returns to his impoverished, desperate rural Victorian town following a horrific murder/suicide, where a guy he was friends with as a kid, Luke, has apparently killed his young wife and son then wandered out into a dry lakebed to shoot himself, leaving only their baby daughter alive.

But Aaron has a dark past we see in a couple of flashbacks of he and his teenage friends cavorting in the damn and getting up to mischief. When one of their number, Ellie, who Aaron had fallen in love with, was found dead in the damn years before, Aaron was suspected of killing her before he and his father left to escape the harassment that followed.

But after he attends the funeral he realises not everything about the case adds up and – with the help of the slightly hapless local constabulary, decides to look into it himself.

He reconnects tentatively with the other girl in his childhood group, Gretchen (Genevieve O'Reilly) and falls foul of the town yobbo Grant, who was Ellie's brother and who – along with their dad – still contends that Aaron killed Ellie.

But there's a mystery wrapped up with Gretchen, Luke, Luke's family and the local school principal Whitlam (John Polson) that's untangled at a stately pace the closer Aaron gets to the truth, and a secondary climax when he discovers the truth about what really happened to Ellie.

Robert Connolly's a proficient and experienced enough director to successfully meld the story with the setting and generate an appreciable mise en scene. The whole thing feels on the very edge of being a bit freewheeling and not quite tight enough but it manages to work apart from two elements that ring slightly false (and forced).

The first is how a federal police detective gets so much leeway not just to take time off from work but poke around in another jurisdiction in a case that's more or less closed. Second is that the reason behind the brutal inciting act feels a bit superfluous, not connected enough to the rest of the story to really tie things together.

But it's nice to be told a story, not just a cinematic travelogue of rough country pubs, barren bush and dry riverbeds like I was expecting.

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