You have likely seen many movies that are a lot like “The Dry,” a noirish thriller about an outsider returning to his hometown to poke around a mysterious murder case. Then again, you’ve probably eaten your favorite dessert many times, and it always tastes pretty good. The familiarity is part of what makes “The Dry” tick along so nicely; it reminds you of other good movies even as you enjoy its own special flavor.
Based on an excellent 2016 suspense novel by Jane Harper, “The Dry” takes place in a drought-stricken small town in Australia, where a title card tells us it’s been 324 days since rain. Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), a Melbourne-based federal agent, has returned to his small town for a tragic funeral: a husband, wife and child killed in an apparent murder-suicide. Aaron, a quiet man who clearly knows some things he isn’t telling, planned on a quick trip in and out, but the dead man’s parents beg him to investigate the case, unable to believe that their son could have committed such a crime. Other familiar characters sashay through the film: Gretchen, the sultry local (Genevieve O’Reilly) for whom Aaron is carrying a torch; the inexperienced small-town cop (Keir O’Donnell) assigned to the case; the angry figures from Aaron’s past, whose motives we slowly come to understand; the orphaned infant who is the only witness to the crime, and whose wailing occasionally serves as the film’s poignant soundtrack.
Director Robert Connolly knows why we watch this kind of thing, and he elegantly delivers; the violence takes place almost entirely off-screen, and instead we wallow in moonlit scenes of Gretchen and Aaron (“We’ve been waiting so long for rain,” she says, like a proper femme fatale), in flashbacks to Aaron’s youth, in moody shots of dry fields that seem to extend forever. I probably could have guessed the mystery’s resolution (which I had conveniently forgotten since reading the book), but it was nicer not to try, and to simply enjoy a well-crafted movie, anchored by Bana’s quietly charismatic star turn. You watch waiting for rain and hoping it doesn’t come, so you can stay in “The Dry” a little bit longer.