You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Dry Land

A vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder comes home to a hardscrabble existence.

With: Ryan O'Nan, America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Jason Ritter, Melissa Leo, June Diane Raphael, Diego Klattenhoff, Evan Jones, Benito Martinez. (English, Spanish dialogue)

An Iraq War vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder returns home to a hardscrabble existence in West Texas with predictably bad results in “The Dry Land.” Debuting writer-director Ryan Piers Williams struggles to find fresh dramatic variations on a familiar (and sadly cyclical) American tragedy, and relies on trite melodramatic approaches to make his point that vets’ biggest wounds are mental. Marketing and audience interest will be centered on a hard-working, talented cast, led by strong unknown actor Ryan O’Nan, doing their best in difficult circumstances. B.O. on all fronts looks dim.

James (O’Nan) arrives in El Paso and is greeted by adoring wife Sara (America Ferrera) and pal Michael (Jason Ritter), but it’s not the usual flag-waving welcome for a war vet. James and Sara live in a trailer out in the sticks, but Sara tries her best to maintain a happy home. As soon as James examines his securely stored pistol and loads it, though, this is a home destined for bad times. The scene is also emblematic of the problems dogging the pic, featuring many moments that telegraph action or character behavior.

The surprise welcoming party for James, including sister Susie (June Diane Raphael) and Sara’s father David (Benito Martinez), ends in awkward exchanges, but James manages to get a job at David’s meat-packing company. There, he’s assigned to work with Michael and Joe (Evan Jones) in the plant’s slaughterhouse, which Williams films with unfettered realism.

A drunken brawl with Joe, who looks like trouble the second he comes onscreen, is the start of James’ downhill slide, confirming the film’s linear course. James’ violent PTSD-triggered outbursts are such a shock to Sara that she leaves to stay with her folks, and his blocked memory of a truck explosion he survived in Iraq is the impetus to visit Henry (Diego Klattenhoff), a severely injured buddy, at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

A detour to see another unit pal, Raymond (Wilmer Valderrama), is an excuse for some mild comic relief, but the meeting with Henry, who explains the terrible facts of what James has forgotten, is the heavyhanded means to ensure a climactic standoff that could have ended more darkly than it does.

The pic applies a melodramatic sledgehammer to the real issue of PTSD, and the combination of crude storytelling manipulation with undistinguished filmmaking proves counterproductive. Editing is full of hiccups and odd timing, and the dominant shooting style — handheld camera setups and wide-angle lenses — lacks imagination.

As in so many midlevel, serious-minded indie films, the acting towers over everything else. O’Nan’s eyes seem to literally project James wartime traumas, while his scenes with Ritter, Klattenhoff, Raphael and Martinez pop with authenticity. Valderrama is limited by a calculated role, and Ferrara, though warm, is given too little to work with.

Adding to the indie cliches is a strumming guitar score by Dean Parks. Location choices in El Paso and New Mexico lend pic a background more fascinating than the foreground drama.

The Dry Land

Production: A Maya Entertainment presentation in association with Take Fountain Prods. and Besito Films. Produced by Heather Rae. Executive producers, Sergio Aguero, America Ferrera. Co-producer, Jason Michael Berman, Margo Johnston, Mark G. Mathis. Directed, written by Ryan Piers Williams.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Gavin Kelly; editor, Sabine Hoffman; music, Dean Parks; music supervisor, April Kimble; production designer, David Baca; costume designer, Jerry Carnivale; sound (Dolby Digital), Matt Nicolay, Edwardo Santiago; supervising sound editor, Cory Melious; re-recording mixers, Melious, Tony Volante; associate producers, Nikki Barbanell, Lindsay Hovel, Laura Mehlhaff; casting, Jeanne McCarthy, Nicole Abellera. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2010. Running time: 92 MIN.

Cast: With: Ryan O'Nan, America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Jason Ritter, Melissa Leo, June Diane Raphael, Diego Klattenhoff, Evan Jones, Benito Martinez. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Scene

  • Lilli Cooper Tootsie

    How the 'Tootsie' Musical Was Updated for the #MeToo Era

    Turning the beloved 1982 comedy “Tootsie” into a 21st century musical already seemed like a challenge when work on the adaptation began back in 2016. Then the #MeToo movement revved up — and the writers knew they couldn’t tell Dorothy’s story for a modern audience without it. “It’s different than it was when the movie [...]

  • Ralph Fiennes attends a special screening

    Ralph Fiennes on Directing Rudolf Nureyev Biopic: 'It's Been a Very, Very Long Road'

    Ralph Fiennes celebrated his latest directorial outing, “The White Crow,” on Monday night in New York City. The Sony Pictures Classics film tells the story of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. “It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes [...]

  • Taylor Swift Time 100 Performance

    Watch Taylor Swift's Time 100 Gala Performance and Speech

    Just two nights out from Taylor Swift D-day spring 2019 — i.e., Thursday’s release of a new single — Swift made an appearance Tuesday at the Time 100 event in New York, where she did not let loose with any spoiler performances of new music but did sing a few fan favorites, including “Style,” “Delicate,” and [...]

  • Katie HolmesAT&T Presents: Untold Stories Luncheon

    Katie Holmes, Kal Penn Help Decide Winner of $1 Million Filmmaker Grant

    Tribeca Film Festival and AT&T gave one young filmmaker a million and one reasons to rejoice at the “Untold Stories” third annual competition. After a nerve-wracking 10-minute long pitch in front of over 850,000 live stream audience members and a panel consisting of celebrities and industry leaders, filmmaker Kate Tsang was awarded $1 million Monday [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content