‘Dirt Music’ Review: Damaged Lovers and Dreamy Landscapes


Every so often, a movie comes along that isn’t particularly good, yet somehow gets to you — even as your eyes start to roll, they can’t look away. “Dirt Music” is one of those, a strangely fascinating delivery system for so much visual beauty that its flaws scrabble to gain a purchase. Rocky coves and marzipan beaches, glittering waves and pellucid shallows crowd the screen, at the center of which hulks a mostly shirtless Garrett Hedlund. “Dirt Music” may never be an award-winner, but boy, does it know its audience.

Based on Tim Winton’s 2001 novel and directed by Gregor Jordan, the film is selling itself as a love story, but its heart isn’t in it. For one thing, the putative lovers — Lu (Hedlund) and Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) — are only rarely permitted to share a scene, never mind a bed. And for another, Jordan’s infatuation with his setting, the stunning coastline of Western Australia (adoringly photographed by Sam Chiplin), is by far the most resonant emotion onscreen.

That’s actually a plus for this fragile, almost ethereal movie, especially in the second half as Lu and Georgie are drawn further from civilization and closer to their destinies. He is a moody poacher and onetime musician who has turned away from tunes in favor of chronic moping. She is a big-city transplant who enjoys predawn skinny-dipping and stray dogs. Trapped in an unhappy relationship with a wealthy fisherman (David Wenham), she’s beginning to chafe against the suffocating insularity of their seafaring suburb.

“I’m not a very loyal fishwife,” she tells Lu when they meet, then proves it. As we learn the roots of Georgie’s romantic discontent, flashbacks flesh out the tragedy behind Lu’s haunted manner and loner lifestyle. Jack Thorne’s screenplay is stingy with dialogue and hazy on detail, disclosing just enough of the couple’s tenuously entwined histories. Yet when Lu takes off for the islands and the narrative seems to veer from relationship drama to adventure yarn, its searching, yearning mood at last takes hold. In the gorgeous, melancholic vastness of the Dampier Peninsula, Lu’s overwhelming desire to lose himself is palpable.

More than anything, perhaps, “Dirt Music” is a survival story, one that sees purification as a necessary step in moving on. And if the ending isn’t allegorical, it should be: Read literally, its implausibility would eviscerate the movie’s carefully tended mood of dreamlike surrender to a grief too great for anyone to bear.

Dirt Music
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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