“Only a few moments that truly get you hot under the collar”
In the Australian outback, temperatures run high. In a small town like that of the setting for Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music, the heat is even more intense; a suffocating backdrop for fiery desire and flaming tempers. Sadly, despite the sizzling weather and simmering sexual tension, this Aussie romance-drama ultimately leaves you cold.
It opens by introducing us to Georgie (played by the always excellent Kelly Macdonald), an ex-nurse and free spirit, trapped in the luxurious prison of being in a relationship with Jim (David Wenham), chief local fisherman and the most powerful man in town. She meets a mysterious stranger Lu (Garrett Hedlund) whilst out swimming one night. After running into each other again, their bond develops quickly and intensely, the effects of it rippling out to their community as they expose the ups and downs of their histories one layer at a time.
Visually, Dirt Music is delicious. Undoubtedly aided by the beauty of the setting, the cinematography wrings every last drop of splendour from burning sunsets and barren landscapes, zooming out to overhead shots of the twinkling turquoise sea, then back in to frame the sunkissed faces and bodies of the protagonists exquisitely.
From the start, the world-building is done so effectively that you sense something in Georgie’s life is a little off: she is a clear outsider in this small town, undermined by Jim and his colleagues and outright ignored by the locals. This makes her feeling of unleashing upon meeting Lu all the more palpable; they both seem to come alive when they’re together.
Hedlund’s and Macdonald’s chemistry is outrageous, her impish energy perfectly balanced against his ‘strong and silent’ type. But with this kind of love story, it’s all about the build-up – unfortunately, Dirt Music barely gets started notching up the tension between these two characters before it’s released. Once that feeling is gone, it can’t be recaptured, and the film never quite gets back to that level of intensity and intrigue.
Most of the problems with Dirt Music lie not with the performances, but how the story is built around them. The film works best when the two leads are together, but events unfold in a way that sees them pulled apart for much of the runtime. Engaging as it is to watch Lu and Georgie get to know each other, there’s a kind of soapy melodrama to the plotting that keeps interrupting the film’s flow. As a result, what could have been an intoxicating, highly cinematic portrayal of lust between kindred spirits instead ends up feeling like it would be more at home on Aussie daytime TV.
Gaining full marks for style, it’s Dirt Music‘s substance that leaves a lot to be desired. With only a few moments that truly get you hot under the collar, it’s lasting effect is a frustration at what could have been, rather than the passionate fervour it was hoping for.
Director: Gregor Jordan
Writer: Jack Thorne
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Garrett Hedlund, David Wenham
Producers: Amanda Posey, Angie Fielder, Finola Dwyer, Polly Staniford
Images courtesy of Film4.