The Dry Land (2010) dir. Ryan Piers Williams
Starring: Ryan O’Nan, America Ferrera, Melissa Leo, Wilmer Valderrama
By Alan Bacchus
‘The Dry Land’, an utterly depressing version of the post war traumatic experience of a US soldier from Iraq unable to integrate back into regular society, is a beat down of monumental proportions. A beat down with cinematic flare, or a unique sense of character can make for great cinema, but with only moderate or adequate cinematic skills the despair on screen transfers into despair for the audience.
James (Ryan O’Nan) is greeted at the airport returning home honourably discharged from his tour in Iraq. He’s all smiles for about 5 minutes before James displays his first bout of mood swings, strangling his wife Sarah (America Ferrara) while sleeping in bed.
Why his family isn't surprised that James hasn’t coped well with his war experience is a headscratcher as its established James' father was a Vietnam vet who died of postwar self-destructive alcoholism. I guess why he even went into the army in the first place is the ultimate question.
Anyways, he needs a job of course, and without any options he’s forced to work at his father-in-law’s meat packing factory killing cows, slitting their throats and skinning them. If it couldn’t get any more depressed we meet James’ mother (Melissa Leo) who is a shut-in with emphysema attached to an oxygen tank. Eventually James gets up and leaves his wife to recall and reconcile the event which had him discharged.
Not more than five minutes ever goes by without a character crying, or fighting one another physically or emotionally. The film attempts to lighten things after James recruits his former army buddy (Wilmer Valderrama) into going on a road trip to find their old buddy crippled from battle. Writer/Director Williams attempts to humour us by showing the duo joy riding while shot gunning beers, and robbing convenience stores. Good times! Though curiously when it comes to partying with local motel prostitutes James draws the ethical line there.
Add in a whiny lap steel melancholy guitar score and it’s the sinks the film down even further into complete despair.
It’s all part of the string of clichés strung together to form this dull and depressing entry in genre of postwar trauma cinema. Best go and see ‘Brothers’ (the Danish version) which tells the exact same story right down to the police confrontation at the end, or ‘Coming Home‘, or ‘In the Valley of Elah‘, or even going way back to ‘The Best Years of Our Lives‘.
If the point of the film were to sympathize with and shed light on the poor situation many veterans of the Iraq war find themselves in, it does no justice for the cause. The best way to convince the Government to either get the hell out of the Middle East, or provide adequate post-war counselling is to make a good movie.