Review by Sean Boelman
Adaptations of romantic drama novels make for some of the most notoriously uneven films of all time, but Gregor Jordan’s cinematic version of Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music is one of the best the genre has had to offer. Benefitting from a strong cast and a sentimental but still emotional story, this is a crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.
The film’s story follows a woman who, to the dismay of her fisherman boyfriend and his two sons, has an affair with an edgy poacher with a troubled past of his own. On one hand, it’s a mildly complicated and sometimes convoluted storyline full of melodrama and theatricalism, but the emotional core of the movie works so well that it can be forgiven for its mistakes.
Unlike many other book-to-film adaptations, it doesn’t feel like the subplots here were sacrificed in translating the source material to the screen. The love interest’s backstory, told through flashbacks, is arguably the single most compelling portion of the story. Unlikely to leave any but the most stolid of viewers unaffected, it’s a tragic tale.
While the protagonist isn’t quite as well-developed as her male counterpart, she still has an arc that is sympathetic. Part of what makes this stand out from similar movies in the genre is that it is not a traditional love triangle, but rather, an exploration of the different obligations and feelings that go into making a decision regarding love.
When the film becomes a much more traditional star-crossed lovers storyline in the final thirty minutes or so, it does lose a lot of its momentum, but it lands on its feet with an ending that is among the most surprisingly satisfying of the genre. It’s a pretty perfect conclusion to tie the many arcs together.
Of course, a significant portion of the movie’s success comes from the ability of its two leads. Kelly Macdonald and Garrett Hedlund are both extremely talented performers, and they are able to sell the emotion in even the most maudlin of moments in the script. And as is integral for the romance to work, their chemistry is truly wonderful.
The film also benefits from having some absolutely gorgeous cinematography from Sam Chiplin. It helps that the movie was shot on location in Australia, some of the country’s scenery serving as a wonderful background. Additionally, the use of music, while not as prevalent as one would expect given the title, is certainly effective.
Dirt Music is a charming little romantic drama. Perhaps due to the lighting-in-a-bottle that is a thorough script, excellent performances, and strong visuals, this stands out as a touching and well-made entry in an overstuffed genre.
Dirt Music is now available on VOD.