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Review: Dirt Music

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“[It’s] anything you can play on a verandah or porch, without electricity” – Tim Winton, Dirt Music

Some critics have been underwhelmed by the long-awaited cinematic adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music, but I’m fairly happy.

I’m a huge fan of the book—withstanding its violence, despair and pain for the muscular romance at the heart of it. The tougher aspects of the book have been softened, or excluded, from the screen version. For example, Jim (David Wenham) is far less of a bastard onscreen, he is played so that his actions are almost forgivable.

I am impressed that director Gregor Jordan has allowed so much silence onscreen. These are not talkative characters, but with so much of the book being interior monologues and thought processes, they could have become ‘Chatty Cathys’ to explain their motivations. Jordan’s direction is no-frills, no whizz-bang effects, just sweeping scenery (Western Australia in all its harsh glory) and good acting in what is, despite the scenery, a character-driven piece.

This would not have worked if Lou (Garrett Hedlund) and Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) did not work. Macdonald is fantastic, even if her Australian accent strays across the Tasman to New Zealand occasionally. Lou Fox is core of the story and if he was wrong it really would not have mattered what else was right.

Hedlund is American, and though a soupcon of twang popped out, I was very impressed with his Australian accent. In fact, with Lou’s trademark shaggy hair and general air of dishevelment, it took me ten minutes or more to realise it was Hedlund. Impressively, he is not bulging with Hollywood muscles—he is thin, rangy and dangerously tanned, just as he should be.

At different times Heath Ledger (who would have been too young) and later, Russell Crowe (really?), were attached to the project. Crowe even recorded an album of music to be used on the soundtrack. But, as I’ve already said, this is not an easy book to adapt to the screen.

The music, the Dirt Music, is soul of the story and this score has been composed by Craig Armstrong, serial collaborator with Baz Luhrmann. The actors sing for themselves. Julia Stone plays Lou’s sister-in-law and her voice, occasionally blended with George Mason’s (who plays her husband and Lou’s brother), and Hedlund’s is pure Australian folk.

Then there is Bird, little Bird, who haunts the whole story and is played perfectly by Ava Caryofyllis. In all, a moving, enjoyable film.

I would also like to give a shout out to Limelight Cinemas—they’ve used the COVID closedown to do some very nice renos—that look good, offer comfort, better sound and service. And who doesn’t love a cinema with a bar?

Roslyn saw this film as a guest of Limelight Cinemas, Tuggeranong.

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