In the cinematic adaptation of Australian author Jane Harper’s mystery The Dry, Eric Bana’s federal agent Aaron Falk returns to his village of Kiewarra, having left as a teenager under a cloud of mystery. He’s returned for the funeral of his childhood best friend, who apparently killed his wife and child and then himself. While he investigates the deaths on behalf of his dead friend’s parents, his memory turns to the death that drove him from Kiewarra decades earlier, as the two stories veer dangerously through truth and justice.
Twenty years ago, Falk’s romantic interest Ellie Deacon drowned, and because a note from Falk was found with her belongings, Falk was blamed by the townfolk and Deacon’s family. As he investigates the death of his friend’s family, the Hadlers, he encounters the disbelief of those around him who believe he’s responsible for Deacon’s death. Thanks to the adaptation of Harper’s story and Robert Connolly’s direction, the audience remains off-kilter in terms of Falk: is he a reliable narrator or was he responsible for Deacon’s death?
The investigation into the Hadlers’ death is equally tricky. The flashbacks show Falk’s friend, Luke, as troubled, and various townsfolk have insight into the Hadlers’ lives that lead Falk’s investigation with local sergeant Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell) down various rabbit trails. Falk’s interest in Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), the fourth member of the teen group he ran with, adds romance to the mystery – along with a hint of danger.
Throughout this dusty mystery, Australia as setting adds character to the visuals, too. The audience’s attention is distracted in the details, but the emotional heartbeat remains Falk’s own self-examination of himself and the past. While few will have experienced the level of accusation – did he kill his teen sweetheart? – the reality is that few get to go home again on their own terms. Lives are judged by preconceived ideas, by old patterns, by the way that childhoods leaned even if changes occurred as adults. Unfortunately this is true in the church, too: grace is discussed and redemption proclaimed, but too often, we don’t actually operate like we believe that people can change.
That’s the kind of graceless reception Falk receives in Kiewarra, even as he pursues justice for others. And it makes for a captivating mystery.