Diving into the beautifully, brutal soul of Australia

Diving into the beautifully, brutal soul of Australia

Review: Dirt Music
Starring Kelly Macdonald, David Wenham, and Garrett Hedlund

If there is an author that manages to capture the undercurrent of Australian culture it is Tim Winton. From Cloud Street to Breath, this is a writer who pushes his literary finger into the wounded soul of this sunburned land and presses until it hurts. Despite his ability to connect to the heart of Australia, it always is a challenge for filmmakers to make a successful cinematic adaptation of his novels. Especially one that has an appeal beyond the borders of this island nation. Dirt Music is the latest attempt to take Winton’s vision of life on the brutally beautiful coastline of Western Australia to the big screen.

Imagine utilising the canvas of the majestic beaches along the Indian Ocean to create upon. A view that many would pay millions to experience, much less to wake up to every morning. Yet, the beauty of this seascape cannot lift the spirits of Georgie (Kelly Macdonald), the central character of Winton’s ill-fated story. The former nurse merely exists in the house that she shares with Jim Buckridge (David Wenham) and his two sons. As she dreams of an existence beyond this life, her dour mood draws her to the beach. She decides to take a late-night skinny dip while Jim is out working at sea with his crew. While Georgie glides through the tranquil waters of the cove, she witnesses Lu (Garrett Hedlund) poaching from her partner’s lobster traps, but chooses not to report him.

The next morning brings Jim and his fleet back to the small seaside community with a record catch and a celebration for everyone connected to the fishermen. In amongst the beer-laden party, Georgie finds that she is alone in a crowd, since she did not grow up in the town and people constantly remind her of that fact. This loneliness washes over the woman and motivates her to escape the coastline. She decides to head into the big city for some time away. While on the road in her depressed state, her car breaks down in a remote area along the highway with no phone coverage. It is during the wait that Lu comes along and assists the stranded traveller and takes her into the city. What seems to be an innocent courtesy leads these lost souls toward a torrid love affair. This passionate affair becomes the catalyst that unleashes an emotional flood of memories for everyone involved in their lives.

We see a quintessential Winton narrative unfold before our eyes with the inclusion of the land and the sea as characters in this heartbreaking journey along the coast of Australia. Each scene manages to involve some natural aspect of the world as a complementary element, which director Gregor Jones (Ned Kelly) manages to capitalise on for a marvellous visual experience. Then to include the haunting, captivating and unplugged tunes that represent dirt music, this project seems to contain the essential backdrop for a captivating film. Unfortunately, the cinematography and music cannot make up for the disjointedness of the screenplay. There is a beauty to the experience, but it is accompanied by a feeling of being lost. Each act comes with a confusing and foreboding component that distracts from this transformative tale.

It is evident that every character brings tragic brokenness to this seaside tale, but things take quite a bit of time to unveil themselves. The inner connectedness between Georgie’s reason for living in this unhappy lifestyle, Lu’s tragic familial past and the brutal truth of Jim’s past sins do eventually become apparent, but it is a long and laborious journey. While MacDonald, Wenham and Hedlund do their best to make their characters believable and engaging, even these performances cannot lift this script out of the murky depths. These eventual connections feel a bit like being on a bushwalk without a map. There is a beauty to the experience, but that sense of being lost causes a confusing and foreboding component that distracts from this transformative tale.

Dirt Music does try to embody the Australian experience and represent Tim Winton’s writings. With the inclusion of the picturesque coastline, the red earth of this sunburned land and the calamitous tone that persists through the people of this country, it has the ingredients for a classic Aussie film. Regrettably, the final product did not represent the sum of its parts and leaves the audience with little more than beautiful scenery and a solid soundtrack to enjoy.

REEL DIALOGUE: Finding a way out of grief

Tim Winton manages to tap into the lonely essence of grief and how everyone deals with loss differently. Regret, tears, anger, confusion are some of the emotions that come along during this time in the lives of those who lose a loved one. What the Australian author manages to do with Dirt Music is to show that it takes time from people to go down to the depths of despair and even more time to rise out of this pit.

One thing that can be considered about the message of the Bible is that God is not only there for those who grieve, but that he can empathise with them too. His Son died a horrific death and it allows people to know that they can come to a God who knows how they feel during this low in their lives.

For those struggling with the dark shadow of grief, the God of the Bible does provide the guiding light out of the darkness. We may seek out comfort in the temporary things of this life, but they do eventually lose their power to soothe the soul. It is good to know that the Lord is always there for and with us.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. Psalm 18:28

Russ Matthews


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