TL;DR – A film with an interesting cast and set up, filled with gorgeous scenery, that unfortunately grinds to a halt in the third act and never recovers.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Dirt Music Review –
When you are Tim Winton one of Australia’s most prolific and awarded writers, it stands to reason that your work is going to be adapted quite often, and we have numerous film and tv series to back that up. Two years ago, we reviewed the latest adaption from Tim Winton’s work with Breath, and today we get to look at another of his novels with Dirt Music.
So to set the scene, we open in on the small fishing town of White Point on the West Australian coast. We see a woman called Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) with a drink in her hand standing on the balcony of a plush house up behind the dunes. She hears a dog barking, so goes down to the beach to explore, which is where she finds a dog tied to an empty boat trailer. After accidentally letting the dog go free she decides to go for a swim in the middle of the night, as one does apparently, and while diving in the waves, she comes across the boat’s owner Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund) coming back with a boat full of poached lobsters. The same lobsters Georgie’s partner Jim (David Wenham) catches for a living.
The first thing you notice in this film and one of its strengths from start to finish is the cinematography and the use of landscape. Nearly every frame in this film is captivating to watch because of the way the camera draws you into the surroundings and the world around them. This is helped by filming the bulk of this film along the West Australian coastline, which is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. They don’t even use a drone in every second shot like most Australian films to try and make the scenery pop even more because they are confident in the vistas. The film does fall into a teal and orange visual motif at the start, but I personally don’t mind that aesthetic. Also, it is clear that a lot of the night scenes on/in the water had to be filmed at day and made to look like night for safety reasons. As a character wisely states, it is not wise to go swimming off the coast at night.
One of the key themes of the film is how the guilt of the past guides and shapes us, and not always for the best. Most of the main characters are trying to process a significant loss that has marked their lives. That pain that echoes forward from the event absorbing everything it touches. There is also the power dynamics of a small town where even if you have lived there for ages, you are still an outsider. This emotion is all brought to the fore by some good performances by the leads Garrett Hedlund and Kelly Macdonald. Garrett continues to show just how captivating he can be as an actor and how silly it is that we have not seen him in a follow up to Tron Legacy yet. Though I will say that some of the conversations were a bit stilted and I think it might have to do with some accent work not quite landing.
However, while all of this is engaging, there is one major issue with Dirt Music, and that is its third act. So, since we are discussing the third act of the film, I do have to put a major [SPOILER] warning here. The third act is set in motion by Lu being driven from White Point and deciding to go for a jaunt up the coast. This as an inciting incident, it is not a problem in itself, but the way it is used in the film grinds the story to a halt, and it never recovers. The big issue here is that Georgie does not get agency over her decision to leave and continues to be shackled to Jim long after he should have been cut free. Also, she has an action in the story that you can’t help but feel that she had no right to do, which sours the ending with that realisation.
Jim is an odd character here, even though David Wenham is putting in a consummate performance. The film can’t quite decide if he has been abusive or not, playing the game of suggesting but not telling. However, he terrifies people around him, and so the attempt to rehabilitate his character is the first of many potholes in this part of the film. Even though there were one or two moments during the third act that did manage to cut through. However, it mostly felt like I was sitting through a postcard presentation of the area than a core narrative experience. This whole third act is very bleak, and that may work for you more than it did for me, and some of the conversations I heard from the other people who watch the film support this.
In the end, do we recommend Dirt Music? Well, it is an interesting film, with strong performances, beautiful scenery, and I think a faithful adaption of the source material. However, unless one of those things truly excites you, then I am not sure this is the film for you. If you liked Dirt Music, I would also recommend to you The Dressmaker.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you watched Dirt Music?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias, and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Dirt Music
Directed by – Gregor Jordan
Screenplay by – Jack Thorne
Based on – Dirt Music by Tim Winton
Music by – Craig Armstrong
Cinematography by – Sam Chiplin
Edited by – Pia Di Ciaula
Production/Distribution Companies – Aquarius Films, Cornerstone Pictures, Film4, ScreenWest, Wildgaze Films & Universal Pictures
Starring – Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Macdonald, David Wenham, Aaron Pedersen, Dan Wyllie, Chris Haywood, George Mason, Ava Caryofyllis, Jessica Niven, Jacob Clayton & Julia Stone
Rating – Australia: M;