(director/writer: Robert Connolly; screenwriters: Harry Cripps/Samantha Strauss/from a Jane Harper novel; cinematographer: Stefan Duscio; editors: Nick Meyers/Alexandre de Franceschi; music: Peter Raeburn; cast: Eric Bana (Aaron Falk), Genevieve O’Reilly (Gretchen), Keir O’Donnell (Greg Raco), John Polson (Scott Whitlam), Matt Nable (Grant Dow), Eddie Baroo (McMurdo), Martin Dingle Wall (Luke Hadler), Bruce Spence (Gary Hadler), Julie Blake (Barb), Miranda Tapsell (Rita Raco), James Frecheville (farmer), William Zappa (Mal), BeBe Bettencourt (Ellie Deacon), Joe Klocek (Younger version of Aaron); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Robert Connolly/Eric Bana; Jodi Matterson/Steve Hutensky/Bruna Papandrea; Apple TV/IFC release; 2020-Australia)
“It might be one of the few movies better than the book.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Aussie director Robert Connolly (“The Bank”/”Three Dollars”) adapts Jane Harper’s gripping best-seller crime novel, a diverting police procedural about dual murders and a drought. It’s cleverly co-written as a taut psychological mystery by Harry Cripps and Samantha Strauss.
After Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), an Australian federal police agent, finds out his buddy from high school, Luke Hadler (Martin Dingle Wall), killed his wife and son before killing himself, the now Melbourne cop returns to his fictional dusty outback hometown of Kiewarra to see if he can clear things up, but receives a frosty reception from some locals.
At the funeral, the priest points out during his eulogy that these are precarious times because the dry spell leaves the area vulnerable for bush fires and rash actions from those seething inside with anger.
The story rests on an unsolved murder in the past and the mysterious suicide-killing in the present. It requires considerable use of flashbacks to dig into the forgotten past.
The suicide/killer’s parents (Julia Blake and Bruce Spence) don’t believe their son is a killer and trust Falk to investigate. Falk’s presence brings up the unsolved murder long ago of his teenage friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt). The locals believed he lied about his activities that day when questioned by the police, leaving the cop in a morally dubious position.
The townspeople confronting Falk the most are: the sheepish police Sergeant Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell), a defiant suspect (Matt Noble) in the past killing, Ellie’s hostile father Mal (William Zappa) and cousin Grant (Matt Nable). Falk also encounters an uncooperative farmer (James Frecheville), the school principal (John Polson) and his one time love interest, the now single-mom Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly).
Bana’s performance is spot-on, as the character study of him is a deep dive into his inner makeup.
It’s a polished film, well-crafted, psychologically fervent, filled with red herrings, dark secrets and greatly helped by an outstanding supporting cast. It might be one of the few movies better than the book.
REVIEWED ON 5/28/2021 GRADE: A-