Australian film “Dirt Music” propels supporting actress Kelly MacDonald (“No Country For Old Men,” “Goodbye Christopher Robin”) into her first leading role.
The Scottish actress dons a sun-kissed tan and a remarkable Aussie accent. Based on the novel by Tim Winton, the screenwriter Jack Thorne (“The Aeronauts”) and director Gregor Jordan (“Ned Kelly”) appear to have opposing visions of how the cinematic version should play out.
Packaged as a love story, “Dirt Music” is a scramble of mystery, finding oneself and grief. For a story with much to say and uncover, the character motives and even their identities are slowly revealed, further detracting from viewer interest early on.
Cinematographer Sam Chiplin and water photographer Rick Rifici are the ones feeding our curiosity as they introduce many of us to the diverse and captivating landscapes of Western Australia.
Georgie (MacDonald) is a wandering soul. A nurse and sailor, she finds herself in a relationship with a man she doesn’t know well and cares about even less. Jim Buckridge (David Wenham) is the family name everyone in the local fishing town knows, respects and is paid from.
Georgie hasn’t married Jim, and each day she becomes more distant from the man she met a short time ago on holiday but cares deeply for his children who lost their mother.
Her naked midnight swims introduce her to local Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund), illegally fishing in the Buckridge territory. Fox has little respect for the Buckridge name, and even less for life, as it’s taken everything from him. Two people who have little to celebrate find hope and purpose within each other.
“Dirt Music” paints quit a dramatic story of the striking landscape that’s equal parts beautiful and unforgiving. The location is the most interesting element to the story, and in the second half when Lu sets out for the Coronation Gulf (a chain of islands near the North Central Australian coast), the viewer is again reinvigorated by the sights, but not the dramatic turn of events.
The music and romance element of “Dirt Music” is a bit misleading, at least in the cinematic version. Yet, a few times throughout the running time, the visuals and the musical score crash into each other to provide fleeting seconds of what this film could have achieved.
The viewer finds more feeling in the transportive travel element “Dirt Music” provides than performances or story. While MacDonald and Hedlund (“Mudbound”) represent an unusual paring, both have given far more memorable and compelling performances elsewhere.
The only real Aussie, Wenham (“The Lord of the Rings”), has the most realistic and relatable arc, despite being portrayed as the villain.
Like many of the movies finding life on video on demand for stay-at-home viewers, “Dirt Music’s” most beneficial quality, and the only reason to spend the money and time, is the travel element.
Final Thought: The only enticing feature of Western Australian film “Dirt Music” is the vivid landscape cinematography and setting, not the story or the performances.