The Dry Land
dir-scr Ryan Piers Williams
prd Heather Rae
with Ryan O'Nan, America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Melissa Leo, Jason Ritter, Ana Claudia Talancon, Ethan Suplee, Diego Klattenhoff, Barry Shabaka Henley, Evan Jones, June Diane Raphael, Benito Martinez
release UK Jun.10 eiff, US 30.Jul.10
10/US 1h32
The Dry Land
Big country: Ferrera and O'Nan

valderrama ritter leo
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Dry Land With echoes of Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss, this war-trauma drama takes a strongly internalised approach that highlights the fine performances of its cast. It may not say anything new, but it says it well, without preaching.

After his tour of duty in Iraq, James (O'Nan) is happy to be back home with his wife Sarah (Ferrera) in rural Texas, hanging out with his pal (Ritter) and helping to care for his ill mother (Leo). But he's also haunted by something he can't remember: an insurgent attack that left two of his colleagues dead. After he (and everyone around him) begins to worry about his mental state, he runs off to see a fellow survivor, Raymond (Valderrama), and together they go visit the third (Klattenhoff) to hopefully find some answers.

From the beginning, there's a striking contrast between James' jumpiness and his family's joy at having him home. And filmmaker Williams lets this develop slowly and naturally into something fairly scary as James finds it increasingly difficult to reconcile his suppressed horror with his happy home life. Isolated incidents and an unwillingness to talk to his wife build a strong sense of foreboding (the film's one clunky point is showing us a hidden gun early on), and the darkly gurgling emotions are palpable.

This is impressively played by relative newcomer O'Nan, who vividly shows James' humanity inside his haunted shell. The cast around him is superb, with Ferrera delivering a terrific dramatic performance that tempers memories of her comical skills on Ugly Betty. Valderrama and Ritter are also excellent in roles that are intriguingly suggestive and nicely against type, while Leo and Talancon (as Raymond's fed-up wife) give strongly layered turns as relatively minor side characters.

With his first feature, Williams shows exceptional skill at handling a very serious story, remembering to mix in moments of levity and abrasive honesty along with the more harrowing drama. As he gradually reveals James' instability through emotions rather than dialog, he also quietly shows that, despite his stoic macho posturing, James knows that he needs to get help. Sure, we've seen this kind of story before, but Williams' economical filmmaking style makes this one well worth a look.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 25.Jun.10 eiff

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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall