The worst part about the overly melancholy “Dirt Music,” a real downer of a movie, is that it’s billed as a romance. It’s anything but. The story, based on the critically acclaimed novel by Australian writer Tim Winton, is supposedly one of love and redemption. But a film that’s filled with so much tragedy and a longing for death is not exactly the type of entertainment most would enjoy watching right now.
Former nurse Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) is trapped in the backwater fishing town of White Point with the local town fisherman, the ill-tempered Jim Buckridge (David Wenham). Jim and his gang run the town, especially when it comes to catching crayfish. The last thing anyone wants to do is cross them, because Jim and his buddies will often respond violently.
One night, Georgie goes for a swim and meets Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund), a hunky poacher who takes to the bay in the evenings to steal from Jim’s fish traps. She is instantly drawn to the man, and the two begin an intense affair. It’s revealed that the Foxes and Buckridges have a long, uneasy history and, fearing Jim’s fury after he discovers their tryst, Lu flees to an isolated island. Fearing the worst, especially with Lu’s depressed mental state and crippling grief over a tragic accident years ago, Georgie decides to head North to find him.
The story isn’t the best, and as with many films based on novels, it feels like major chunks of the book’s plot is missing. The movie is painfully slow moving, with lots of shots of the rugged Lu smoldering as his great hair is caught by a breeze, and Georgie staring off into space with a sense of longing. It’s draggy, and that’s putting it in the kindest way possible.
There’s plenty of quality filler by way of beautiful shots of the vast Australian landscape, but the overabundance of visual symbolism quickly reminds viewers that throwing your characters into water multiple times isn’t an acceptable substitute for a well-told story.
The actors are appealing, but their performances are flat. There’s no compelling reason for their relationship, which is a significant problem for a supposed love story. The film had me asking why are these two a couple, and why should I care? Even worse, I left wondering “who is this movie for?”