Solving decades old murders in dustbowl district by Richard Jones


A look at The Dry (MA)

Even though he’s now in his early 50s Eric Bana remains one of Australia’s leading male actors. In this gripping murder-mystery he’s a Federal cop returning to his little hometown district where it hasn’t rained for 324 days.

Aaron Falk (Bana) is back home after 20 years away to pay his respects at an old mate’s funeral. In the town’s accepted folklore Luke (Martin Dingle Wall) committed suicide after murdering his wife and small son.

Aaron’s not convinced that all is what it appears to be on the surface and accepted by the farmers and townsfolk, so he books himself into the local hotel to do some deeper investigations. He gets valuable assistance from the town’s policeman Sgt Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell) who’s also not so sure the glib judgment of the investigating city detectives was correct.

Aaron accepts the heartfelt pleas from Luke’s parents (Julia Blake and Bruce Spence) to stay on after the funeral, so he extends his period of leave, starts asking questions and visiting nearby farms and the local CFA fire station. It’s not easy going. Tough tradie Grant (Matt Nable) isn’t happy with the federal police officer’s tactics and when he’s brought in for questioning almost explodes into physical violence.

Others Aaron and the sergeant speak to include an uncooperative farmer (James Frecheville), the principal of the school where the murdered wife worked (John Polson), Aaron’s former sort-of love interest Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly) and dead teenager Ellie Deacon’s father Mal (William Zappa).

Adding to Aaron’s difficulties is the fact that two decades earlier he was generally believed to have caused the drowning death of classmate Ellie Deacon.

Hence the ongoing friction with Ellie’s father Mal and tough Grant, a relative of that particular family. And then late in the two-hour running time we learn of the school principal’s gambling addiction with his prolonged sessions at the pub’s pokies.

Director Robert Connolly (Balibo, Paper Planes) uses lots of flashbacks to the past so we see the four teenagers swimming in the then chock-a-block river, their liaisons at school and in the town, and importantly, frictions between the four while drying off on the river bank.

Through Aaron Falk, Connolly  unveils the actual killer in the supposed triple suicide and who drowned Ellie.

I think the latter revelation was the more surprising of the two. I certainly didn’t pick it.

It’s a taut and tense thriller, perhaps the best Aussie film I’ve seen since Aaron Pedersen’s turn as a tough indigenous outback cop in Mystery Road.

Yes, another outback or up-the-scrub mystery movie, but gripping nonetheless.

For The Dry Beulah in Victoria’s southern Mallee is the town re-christened Kiewarra – a fact noted these days on the actual town’s roadside sign as drivers enter the main street. ‘Kiewarra’ appears in red print at the base of the sign welcoming visitors.

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