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Most of us know Nick Cave as a prolific songwriter whose music is used in movies and commercials. We also know that he has a distinctive and powerful voice. But we don’t always realize that he also has a novel writing style, one that is characterized by a purposeful economy of words, and a dark, compelling sense of drama.

For the past year or so, I’ve been in the habit of reading a book before I see a film adaptation, and I’ve formed some opinions on the process. I’ve never done this with a thriller, but after reading Alan Sillitoe’s “The Dry” this year, I find myself dismayed that I can’t get my head around the fact that it’s a novel. The novel’s protagonist is a washed up alcoholic who likes to party and drink, and the novel makes a play for the reader’s sympathy by portraying him as a character who is everyman, who on the surface is simple and down-to-earth, but. Read more about best new thrillers and let us know what you think.

A terrible crime, the inhabitants seek revenge. When federal agent Aaron Falk returns to his drought-stricken hometown in the Australian outback to attend the funeral of a friend, he becomes embroiled in an investigation that may not be as simple as it seems. At the same time, trauma and suspicions about her past lurk beneath the surface, related to the unsolved death of a teenager.

You know everything so far, right? Dry from director Robert Connolly certainly doesn’t break with the established narrative form; it’s yet another whodunit in which a big-city man arrives in a small town where everyone is a suspect. The film can certainly be compared to contemporaries like Top of the Lake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sharp Objects, and Children’s Detective, but to say it brings nothing new to the subgenre would be unfair. Indeed, with its unique setting in an arid, fire-prone Australian desert, Dryland is a fast-paced thriller that grabs you from the start and gradually pulls you in.

The camerawork by Stefan Ducio (The Invisible Man) is stunning. Aerial shots show vast dusty landscapes looking sinister and terrifying, soot swarms forming on once green pastures, while irritated and sweaty city dwellers slowly lose patience. The juxtaposition between the recent past of a playful, river-soaked youth and the parched, relentlessly hot desert that reveals the true cynicism of its inhabitants is beautifully rendered.

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Despite some slightly clumsy aesthetic choices with odd jumps, the editing by Alexander de Francesca (Lion) and Nick Myers (Sweetland) is perhaps the star of the film, providing an engaging, fluid and energetic pace that draws you in from the start. The inclusion of flashbacks, sensory and naturalistic, is a big part of what makes the film work, and it’s clear from the start that you’re in the hands of very skilled visual storytellers.

Eric Bana is a strong and convincing actor in the lead role of Aaron after a hiatus in his career (pun not really intended). The main character is intriguing, his painful past a mystery that we discover as the story unfolds, as befits a compelling thriller (the film was adapted from a novel by Jane Harper). Aaron’s inner conflict between being a brave man of the people and what the locals think is his true dark side is well depicted. The bond between him and Sergeant Greg (Keir O’Donnell – American Sniper), who is traumatized by the crime he is investigating, is touching and the two have a nice contrasting dynamic. The moment they meet and Greg shows him the scene is poignantly underscored by Aaron’s request to continue his therapy sessions.

The characters are very poignant – we’re convinced they’re bruised and scuffed people who bear scars in their daily interactions. The supposed antagonists are well developed, and even the most obnoxious characters have clear wants and needs that drive their decisions, not just the typical two-dimensional characters so common in this genre. Of the supporting cast, Grant, played by Matt Nable (Hacksaw Ridge), stands out. He swings charmingly between intimidation, disgust and pain, and is fascinating to watch as he battles Bana on screen. Genevieve O’Reilly (Rogue One, The Matrix Reloaded) also has independence and intriguing intentions that go beyond the typical love interest. Her relationship with Aaron, with his painful past, is the backbone of the film, and the duo handles their shared emotions and chemistry very convincingly throughout the film.

The film is gripping from start to finish and a brilliant return to form for Eric Bana, who has been sorely missed in major roles in recent years. If the familiar genre trophies put you off, Dry is still a film worth seeing for its refreshing terrain, solid cast, and confident, clear-eyed take on history. Connolly avoids the sometimes overused miniseries format into which thrillers are usually forced to fit and creates a taut, highly effective thriller that effectively fills its two-hour running time without losing momentum. Jane Harper’s novel of the same name has a sequel called The Power of Nature, and this author would love to see Bana return to fill Aaron Falk’s dusty shoes.

Follow @MovieBabble_ and Richard @RichieKeaney on Twitter.

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