Writer: Jack Thorne
Director: Gregor Jordan
There is a Lady Chatterley feel to the opening third of Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Dirt Music based on a novel by Tim Winton available for digital download from 19 July, as the ‘kept’ girlfriend of a gangster fish baron falls for a lowly fish poaching-loner who has withdrawn from the world in grief. But this moody Australia-set movie is really interested in how people become untethered from their societies and drawn to a more nomadic existence to deal with their feelings of rejection, guilt and isolation.
Georgie is bored with her life and her partner Jim in a small seaside town. Taking a late-night swim, she sees Lu stealing from the family fishing nets and the next day a roadside breakdown brings Georgie and Lu into contact. An affair begins but Jim’s men decide to run Lu out of town so Georgie embarks on a hopeless journey across the Australian landscape in the hope of redemption for them both.
Dirt Music has two strands, first a slightly unconvincing set-up in which Kelly Macdonald’s Georgie is living with the much older Jim played by David Wenham, a relationship that is starting to sour. Her daily routine is unclear, she is stepmother to his children, but few scenes depict any connection with them and we meet her at a point of change. How she ended-up with Jim and stayed so long is unclear while the implication of his mafia don-like reputation just seems ludicrous in a small fishing town where this wealthy businessman has nothing very important to do.
It is a plot device of course that sets-up the rest of the film, directly informing Lu’s story, a man so beset by grief for a lost family that he sees them repeatedly around his shabby home. Being hounded-out of the area leads to a soulful mission to reach a remote location where he can be alone with his memories and perhaps give himself over to them entirely – a section which is meaningfully portrayed if a little overwrought.
Dirt Music is an overly ponderous film at times in which two people who have barely met are suddenly soulmates, asking the viewer to invest in Georgie’s mission to track down the silent and monosyllabically glum Lu. That he is a better alternative to her current relationship seems more important than exploring Georgie’s own background, history and needs which are never fully articulated, so we never know why she has spent her life following unsuitable men around rather than deciding what she wants.
Macdonald makes Georgie sympathetic however, conveying the quiet frustration with her hollow life that leads quickly to her affair. She never seems scared of big bad Jim which undermines the character’s decision to stay, but Macdonald does develop chemistry with Garrett Hedlund’s Lu which makes some sense of her desire to follow him. Hedlund conveys all that inner confliction well, existing on the surface but mired in his emotional responses to past trauma which are affecting but rarely move the story on.
Dirt Music could probably lose about 15 minutes of its 105-minute running time with little detriment to the story and it is interesting to see a male character as the emotional centre of a film like this. If only the fish-based context felt more dangerous so the audience could understand why so much seemed to be at stake for the Lawrencian lovers and their one chance to be rescued.
Dirt Music will be available on Digital Download from 19th July