Greetings again from the darkness. Remember when an exonerated OJ Simpson vowed to dedicate his time to finding “the real killer” of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman? For some reason that memory came back in the early stages of this film as a Melbourne-based Australian Federal Police agent returns to his isolated hometown after his childhood friend is implicated in a murder-suicide. See, that agent left town as a teenager when he was suspected of being involved in the murder of a local teenage girl.
Eric Bana (MUNICH, 2005) stars as that AFP agent Aaron Falk. He’s been gone for 20 years, but agrees to return for the funeral of his friend Luke (Martin Dingall Wall) at the request of Luke’s parents (Bruce Spence, Julia Blake). The parents don’t believe Luke would have killed his wife and one of his two kids and then committed suicide, and they want Luke to investigate. Of course, the rest of the town believes Luke did it, and most are none too happy that Aaron has returned, as they haven’t forgotten the suspicion tied to him for the tragedy that took the life of his friend Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt) so many years ago.
The stark contrast of glass and steel Melbourne towers and the drought-stricken cracked soil of (fictional) Kiewarra are as distinct as the comparison of today’s Kiewarra with Aaron’s flashbacks to those carefree days of swimming in the river with Ellie, Luke and their friend Gretchen – who is now a single mom played by Genevieve O’Reilly, and one of the few to welcome Aaron back. The film is based on the 2016 international best-selling novel by Jane Harper, and there is a lot to keep up with, despite a pace that never feels rushed. The two cases may be separated by twenty years, but they seem connected, even though we aren’t sure how murder and suicide and a slew of suspects all fit together. Aaron works with local police officer Greg Raco (an excellent Keir O’Donnell) in an attempt to make sense of what’s happened.
There are angry and suspicious people throughout the town. William Zappa plays Mal, Ellie’s grudge-bearing father, while Matt Nable plays her obnoxious and quick-to-accuse cousin Grant. James Frecheville (ANIMAL KINGDOM, 2010) is local farmer with a motive Jamie Sullivan, while John Polson plays school Principal Scott Whitlam who isn’t quite as put together as he’d like everyone to believe. Farmer Sullivan remarks (with the film’s best line), “You think you’re gonna get the truth in a town like this?” And by that time, we know exactly what he means.
The flashbacks to Aaron’s teenage years provide much of the context to the story and his character, and they are handled beautifully. It’s a small town whose residents hold an abundance of secrets, rumors, and grudges, creating a web of misinformation that challenges Aaron and Officer Raco. The two cases (past and present) collide, and cinematographer Stefan Duscio does terrific work with the vast, dusty landscape, as well as the many interior shots where the characters reveal their true selves. Writer-director Robert Connolly (a heavy TV workload recently) co-wrote the script with Harry Cripps and Samantha Strauss, and they have created a suspenseful and entertaining whodunit. With the heavy dose of crime shows on TV these days, it’s a pleasure to see a well done film with high production value and a cohesive story. Just remember to use an alibi other than “shooting rabbits”, if you are ever working on a cover story.
Opening in theaters and on VOD on May 21, 2021