The Dry Land offers a straightforward, apolitical and moving study of the after-effects of the Iraqi war, portraying very effectively the complexity of the situation, and men's typically self-destructive need to try and hold it all in. It's such an irony – having equipped them with the requisite technical knowledge, we send our young, tough boy-men braves into battle at an age when they are at their physical peak and believe they are both invincible and immortal...and by this very same token, they are probably one of the most vulnerable groups of all, in terms of the fallible and susceptible coping mechanisms necessary for this kind of situation. How can we be surprised that soldiers return from war unable to leave behind the first-hand exposure to all sorts of the horrors that they've witnessed?
In film-making terms, it reinforced my view that the better Iraqi war films seem to the ones about the after-effects back home, rather than the war itself – the obvious reference point in this regard being the excellent 'In The Valley of Elah' – continuing to mark a shift away from gung-ho action type movies to more thoughtful and reflective studies of the longer-term impact and consequences of war on the human psyche. And although The Dry Land did not benefit from the type of powerhouse performance of a Tommy Lee Jones, the main characters were well-drawn and empathically believable, centred around a brave performance by a previously relatively-unknown lead, Ryan O'Nan.
If there is a flaw, then a couple of plot contrivances felt slightly clumsy and forced – James starting a job in a slaughterhouse within a day or two of returning, then his mates taking him out into the Texan desert for a spot of post-booze-up late-night rabbit shooting. Both seemed rather insensitive to what he might have just been through, but I suppose the counter-argument would be that if the protagonists were not aware there was anything wrong, then why wouldn't James want to shoot the local wildlife?
It was great to see the backbone of the cast make the effort to attend for the Q&A after the screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival – I was left with a strong sense of collective belief in the film they had made. The Director (Ryan Piers Williams) was particularly lucid and clearly knew his subject well. He can be rightfully proud of a superior piece of film-making that tackles a difficult subject head-on but with sensitivity, without allowing any unnecessary treacly sentimentality to creep in. I was left wondering about the help and support available to help people like James recover their lives and, given the hopeful ending to the film, would be delighted to see a sequel involving the same Director and cast.
So, Ryan, you've done half the job in providing an excellent awareness-raiser – now could you finish the job by filming the equally-testing road towards recovery? 8/10