The Dry has been a massive hit in its native Australia but may not find as eager an audience here in the States. Based on Jane Harper’s best-selling mystery novel, it stars Eric Bana as Aaron Falk, a federal cop who fled his arid hometown of Kiewarra twenty years ago under something of a cloud. A gruesome murder/suicide involving a boyhood pal brings him back, but he doesn’t receive a uniformly warm welcome.

He’s not there on official business but the alleged shooter’s parents fully expect him to use his clout to investigate the matter and clear their son’s name.

Director Robert Connolly, who also adapted the novel with its author, paints a vivid picture of a tight-knit community that always seems on edge, especially after almost a full year without rain. As crops fail and neighbors go broke the air is thick with tension, much of it directed at Bana as some people still blame him for a girl’s mysterious death two decades back.

The problem with this procedural is that the long-ago story overwhelms the present-day incident—and both wallow in red herrings. Bana flirts with an ex-flame (Genevieve O’Reilly) but holds back when he realizes she just might be involved in the case, which he’s taken up with the reluctant support of the local constable (Keir O’Donnell).

Connolly has cast his film well, and one reason Aussies have embraced it so fervently may be that he’s employed a number of seasoned pros like Julia Blake, Bruce Spence, and John Polson who are familiar faces Down Under. Bana is reliably low-key in the leading role, but it’s tempting to describe his characterization by invoking the name of the film: dry.

The movie demands careful attention as flashbacks compete with current events and motives are unveiled. If you watch The Dry at home don’t be browsing on your mobile phone or you’ll lose track of important details.

 It would be nice to welcome this major import to American screens just as theaters are reopening, but for all its complicated plotting The Dry left me wanting.

The Dry is playing simultaneously in theaters and on demand.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024