Kelly Macdonald and Garrett Hedlund lead Dirt Music from director Gregor Jordan (The Informers, Buffalo Soldiers). Adapted from the sweeping novel of the same name from Tim Winton, Dirt Music never quite succeeds as a romantic drama, failing to capture the intense longing of its source material – whilst also never quite committing to the man versus nature thriller that it aims for in its later stages.
Unfolding in contemporary Australia, Georgie (Macdonald) is unsatisfied with her brutal fishing vessel Captain partner – instead finding a new sense of excitement with Lu (Hedlund), the quiet sort who makes a humble living stealing fish from her husband’s waters. Their love affair is shortened when Lu takes off and travels along the Australian coast, escaping past traumas – leaving Georgie heartbroken and desperate to find him.
As a love story that sees our protagonists facing the harsh extremes of the Australian climate to be together, it would be expected that the bond between them would be of a huge magnitude, yet the groundwork here is lacking with the relationship between the pair feeling undercooked. Whilst the physical attraction between Lu and Georgie is conveyed in a couple of tame love scenes – a natural build up to the relationship is somewhat lacking, also heightened by Lu’s decision to get up and leave Georgie without warning. The fact that Lu is a man of very few words seems to be used as a means to not feature the couple bonding much – yet this subsequently means as the stakes get higher, we are simply not invested in the joint story between the couple.
This lack of development also continues into the flashback sequences which plague Dirt Music with Lu haunted by a car accident that resulted in the death of his brother and niece. This leads to countless twee flashbacks which concern Lu more than his newfound relationship with Georgie. While she pines for him in his absence, the film does not see him have a second thought about her. It’s one sided and further disengages us with the love story which should be carrying the film. This is a film where the intense longing should be painful for the the audience to watch due to being so invested – yet it all feels light and superficial, right until the ending’s overwrought turn of events.
Jack Thorne’s screenplay also finds itself lacking a clear narrative direction. Character motivations often feel skewed or poorly thought out, whilst supporting characters contribute little conviction. There is a sense of over simplicity about Lu’s decision to drop all and run when his relationship with Georgie is apparently blossoming – meanwhile Georgie’s partner is quite happy to drop his hatred for Lu and help his partner find him.
Thankfully Hedlund is massively watchable bringing a natural charisma to the fold. He is a quietly engaging presence and the scenes of him travelling along the Australian coast are some of the film’s most intense. The actor injects some life into a somewhat simplistic role, despite the chemistry with Macdonald not having the electric effect that this tale requires. Macdonald is entertaining as the free-spirited Georgie, although the character is diminished in the later stages of the film as the caricatured abandoned woman.
The Australian settings are some of the film’s strongest assets and Director of Photography Sam Chiplin captures the beauty of the coastal locales – who almost become a character in the film due to their prominence in the later acts of the story.
Although Hedlund and Macdonald are likeable screen-presences in Dirt Music, the film never quite succeeds in establishing the overwhelming longing and passion between their two characters. With an undercooked narrative, these performances and the film’s stunning locations simply go to waste.