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Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the source of many ongoing
casualties of war. While not a condition restricted only to actual
battle, the disorder has become increasingly well understood, even if
not always well diagnosed and treated. The Dry Land explores the deep
pain and disorientation that affects returning Iraq war veteran James
as he tries to reacquire "normal" life in Texas. James becomes
increasingly dysfunctional and desperate in the face of normal life.
The melancholic beauty of the film lies in the telling of this story through a highly personal struggle. We experience the effects on James' community of wife, extended family, friends, acquaintances, and others along the way. The horror of war is artfully portrayed without a single flashback to events in military service. This made the movie more effective as a probe into the actual effects of PTSD. We have seen plenty of war footage elsewhere, but not nearly enough of war's effects in day to day lives of the many victims. In reality, we are all the victims of war in one way or another. People like James pay an extremely high price, and our whole society in diminished through all the ripple effects.
The Dry Land exposes a reality of war that we all need to consider, and hopefully translate into action. James' family and friends are ineffective in all their efforts to help, the military appears in a reasonable but impotent light, and no answers are proposed. James really struggles alone despite attempts to lift him. Ultimately we likewise must struggle alone in many ways. The ancient Hebrew prophets cry out again and again against violence and injustice. We readily visualize the immediate effects of violence in blood and killing, but the entirety of the toll is much greater and deeper. "But they do not know how to do what is right," declares the LORD, "these who hoard up violence and devastation in their cities" (Amos 3:10). There is a devastation that still comes into our own cities, far from the killing fields of war. Will we ever count the real cost?
So far, my favorite Sundance film of 2010. The Dry Land is a
deeply-felt, tone perfect portrait of an Iraqi war veteran's struggles
to re-integrate into his marriage, family and community, as well as his
journey to make peace with the events of his personal war.
This film is NOT political in any sense of the word, but rather a very human story, told by a director and actors who obviously care about both the characters and the many war vets struggling to readjust.
The film uses a very clever metaphor to bring us into the horrors of war, and the camera closely follows James to involve us from his point of view and to provide the intimacy needed to tell such a personal and troubling story.
If you are a war vet, or if you know or love one, or if you simply really DO care about the soldiers in combat zones throughout the world, SEE THIS FILM!
Warning: This film contains some graphic scenes and may break your heart.
A ponderous message-movie that is pretty-much all drama (there is very
little "lite" here). The Dry Land is a story of an Iraq war vet
returning home to rural western Texas to the loving arms of his wife
(America Ferrera -- TV's "Ugly Betty", Sisterhood of the Traveling
Pants) only to realize he cannot make things "right" in his mind with
what occurred on the other side of the world.
He meets fellow soldiers and friends and tries to make peace; but the film depicts the folly of war. None of the actors do a poor job on this film and the subject matter is important. The Dry Land is a film one hates to criticize or put-down as I am afraid the criticism will be misconstrued. My problem(s) with the film are not the war or the actors on the screen ... this is simply an "average film" from an un-proved director (this is Ryan Piers Williams' first full-length production).
Humans aren't made to be killing machines without something inside each of us changing. For a brief time, it felt as if this was going to be yet another retread of the Americanized version of the Danish film Brothers; but it eventually steered itself into a different direction which was good. Saying that -- there really isn't much else to discuss about this quiet film.
Like it's title suggests ... the story doesn't meander like a river -- it is just all-out and flat. There is an expanse of land to look at and take in -- and that is what this film is all about. Look at war. Look at its problems. Look at its "solutions". Look at us. Look ...
It's a simple fact that plenty of soldiers are common people who come
from nothing and were going nowhere. They didn't necessarily join the
military out of a sense of patriotism. They just needed a purpose for
A lot of common guys are also trashy. None of these facts detract from the value of their service. Sometimes we see soldiers in an overly idealistic way, as if they are our patriotic, Christian heroes. Some are, but many aren't. That's just life.
Having said that, it almost goes without saying, that watching common trashy people live their depressing lives, is boring.
Certain things, like scenery, multi-dimensional characters, or some kind of epiphany, might save a picture. This one didn't have it.
As some other reviewers put it, Dry Land was indicative of the storyline and pace as well as the terrain. Performances were adequate, if clichéd.
James (Ryan O'Nan) returns home to Texas from the Iraq war with memory
loss. He suffers from PTSD and roughs up his loving wife Sarah (America
Ferrera) in his dream state. His mother Martha (Melissa Leo) is sick.
He starts work at the slaughterhouse with his best friend Michael
(Jason Ritter). He seeks help after another episode. Sarah leaves him.
He visits fellow troubled soldier Raymond Gonzales (Wilmer Valderrama)
who leaves his family to join him on a road trip.
Relative unknown Ryan O'Nan gets the lead in this movie. I don't dismiss his quiet performance. I would rather Valderrama switch it up with the reserved explosive role. It would be more interesting to see him act outside his comfort zone. O'Nan has an everyman feel and sometimes fades into the background. It's a sincere movie with solid actors doing fine work.
This Film is recommended for those who want to find out about PTSD and
don't have a clue what this thing is, just that returning Soldiers
suffer from this "Disease". Problem is after viewing this almost
unbearably Melodramatic and manipulative Movie you might start
developing symptoms of your own. It is that depressing.
Do we really need a Cancerous Mother, a traumatized, possible cheating Wife, a job in a Slaughterhouse with graphic bloodletting, a paraplegic Comrade who lets go a ridiculous metaphor, insensitive Family Members and co-workers, a standoffish and selfish Friend from his Platoon in Iraq, all to illustrate in-adaptability? There are more understated, over the top inclusions. This is all so heavy handed while pretending not to be.
This is blunt, pounding away without consideration for even the slightest bit of elation to enter this exercise in despair. If you are hit in the head enough times, even with a soft object, the result is a numbness. So it defeats the purpose to inspire awareness to the subject at hand and tragically the audience becomes Collateral Damage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For his first feature-length film, The Dry Land writer-director, Ryan
Piers Williams, portrayed the unraveling affects of Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder with equal measure of grit and grace. Ryan O'Nan plays
James, a solider returning from the war in Iraq, with both restraint
and credible volatility. Initially, the film appears to be checking off
the returning warrior clichés: heartfelt airport terminal reunion, an
awkward return to intimacy with the wife, reentry to a mundane job, and
an alcohol fueled tussle with a smart-mouthed townie. But as James
begins to wrestle with a critical missing part of his recollection of
Iraq, the film makes a decidedly introspective turn toward the reality
This Sundance-nominee was able not only to capture a certain authenticity of the returning soldier, Williams also provides a parable of brokenness, self-destruction, and the isolation of the one whose wounds are hidden to his community. As James reaches out to his Army buddies in hopes to fill in the empty parts of his memory, he only finds more brokenness among them. Many who have never worn a uniform can relate to the elusive redemption we seek from others.
At my screening, there was some difference of reaction regarding the climatic final scene. Some were disappointed in the lack of Hollywood-style triumph. But as the rain poured down on the "dry land" of James' El Paso landscape, the viewer is not left without the hope of healing from trauma and despair.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dry Land offers a straightforward, apolitical and moving study of
the after-effects of the Iraqi war, portraying very effectively the
complexity of the situation, and men's typically self-destructive need
to try and hold it all in. It's such an irony having equipped them
with the requisite technical knowledge, we send our young, tough
boy-men braves into battle at an age when they are at their physical
peak and believe they are both invincible and immortal...and by this
very same token, they are probably one of the most vulnerable groups of
all, in terms of the fallible and susceptible coping mechanisms
necessary for this kind of situation. How can we be surprised that
soldiers return from war unable to leave behind the first-hand exposure
to all sorts of the horrors that they've witnessed?
In film-making terms, it reinforced my view that the better Iraqi war films seem to the ones about the after-effects back home, rather than the war itself the obvious reference point in this regard being the excellent 'In The Valley of Elah' continuing to mark a shift away from gung-ho action type movies to more thoughtful and reflective studies of the longer-term impact and consequences of war on the human psyche. And although The Dry Land did not benefit from the type of powerhouse performance of a Tommy Lee Jones, the main characters were well-drawn and empathically believable, centred around a brave performance by a previously relatively-unknown lead, Ryan O'Nan.
If there is a flaw, then a couple of plot contrivances felt slightly clumsy and forced James starting a job in a slaughterhouse within a day or two of returning, then his mates taking him out into the Texan desert for a spot of post-booze-up late-night rabbit shooting. Both seemed rather insensitive to what he might have just been through, but I suppose the counter-argument would be that if the protagonists were not aware there was anything wrong, then why wouldn't James want to shoot the local wildlife?
It was great to see the backbone of the cast make the effort to attend for the Q&A after the screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival I was left with a strong sense of collective belief in the film they had made. The Director (Ryan Piers Williams) was particularly lucid and clearly knew his subject well. He can be rightfully proud of a superior piece of film-making that tackles a difficult subject head-on but with sensitivity, without allowing any unnecessary treacly sentimentality to creep in. I was left wondering about the help and support available to help people like James recover their lives and, given the hopeful ending to the film, would be delighted to see a sequel involving the same Director and cast.
So, Ryan, you've done half the job in providing an excellent awareness-raiser now could you finish the job by filming the equally-testing road towards recovery? 8/10
I am a combat Veteran who was seriously wounded in Baghdad, Iraq on April 26, 2004. I had the opportunity to view The Dry Land at the Dallas International Film Festival in April this year. I think the movie does an excellent job portraying some of the issues that may occur when a combat Veteran comes home. Each one of us has a different experience of war and react differently when we come back home and try to fit back into normalcy. It can be difficult to accept that life back home may be different then prior to our deployment and the fact that our friends and family view us differently too. I think The Dry Land is spot on in every aspect of the movie and I want to thank all of the actors & actresses for their involvement and especially the Director and Screenwriter Ryan Piers Williams.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A friend of mine (Facebook friend) who was in the army recommended me this movie. I saw the main cast, Ryan O'Nan was unknown to me, but America (Ugly Betty, Real Women Have Curves), Wilmer (That 70's Show), Jason (Happy Endings, Freddy Vs Jason), Melissa (Frozen River), Ethan (My Name is Earl), Evan (8 Mile, Jarhead) and Ana Claudia (The Crime of Father Amaro)I really wonder how with a low budget they could afford to cast so many recognizable good actors. As I suspected the acting was really good. The chemistry between the actors was spot on. Many of the actors had little screen time, but they made it memorable. The movie start with a good pace until James (O'Nan) starts to feel the symptoms of his condition. After that things happen really fast. I'm not military man, but I guess anyone can identify himself or herself with some of the issues any veteran has to deal with after coming back home. Even though this movie is classified as a Drama it has a little bit of everything; romance, comedy, mystery (no spoiler watch the movie), and adventure. For a debuting Director this film promises a lot in the future for him. Ryan O'Nan has a lot of potential and talent. I'm delighted to see that many actors still make movies not for the money, but for the love to its Art.
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