Jacob Richardson | 2/10/2020
Despite the glory of the Western Australian landscape, Dirt Music is a basically unwatchable adaptation.
Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) is unhappy with her lot in life. Living with Jim (David Wenham), a man with whom she has a loveless relationship despite his pre-eminent position in the fishing community, she feels trapped. She is also removed from her family, who are independently wealthy. But when she goes for a midnight swim to clear her mind, she runs into Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund). Lu is overrun with grief at the loss of his family, and is spiralling out of control. Lu and Georgie kick off an impassioned love story, which starts to unravel as it becomes more serious and Jim tries to stop her from leaving him.
It is easy to cover off what is good about Dirt Music, because there is only one thing. That is Sam Chiplin’s cinematography, which makes Western Australia look truly stunning. The visual landscape on display is unparalleled, and you can sit back and enjoy looking at basically an extended ad for drive tourism in the region with ease.
The rest of the film doesn’t get off quite as easy, because between the unbelievable dialogue, the grating accent work, the barely there performances and the fundamentally disinteresting plot, the full picture becomes a catalyst of instant passionate hate.
Dirt Music moves ridiculously quickly and interminably slowly at the same time, and that feeling undoubtedly comes down to the tension between the ridiculous dialogue, and the recklessly hell for leather plot. We are asked to suspend disbelief to the extreme when Lu and Georgie first meet and fall in love - their relationship moving at lightning pace - but this is offset but stilted and pained dialogue that makes these scenes feel like they are wading through treacle. We can’t believe the rapid love story because the dialogue is so ridiculous - hitting none of the romance cues that might allow the audience to grasp onto the structure of the romance without the filling of actual strong plot.
The dialogue continues in such a stilted and unnatural way throughout the film. It’s even more ridiculous because of the performances from Hedlund and in particular Macdonald, who take this material in the worst possible way. The combination of shittty dialogue, a ridiculous and unbelievable plot that skips past necessary expository steps, and a performance (particularly in Macdonald’s case) that grates in the extreme, creates a nearly unwatchable spectacle on the screen.
For a character like Georgie, a performance that justifies her protagonist status is needed, but it never materialises. Instead, Georgie comes across as a petulant child - unnecessarily lashing out, and hurting her family, Jim and his family, and even Lu in the process. Because we never (a) truly believe the romance between the two and (b) never get a real insight into Georgie and Jim’s relationship, what we instead see is a destructive personality hurting everyone around her. Indeed, it isn’t even until the end of the film that we get evidence that makes us despise Jim, and at that point the movie has transgressed into a more familiar, linear structure that makes it much more effective, and allows us to root for Georgie and Lu more.
As the movie progresses, we find out more and more about the backstory to Lu Fox, and his relationship with Jim. This piece of the film is astonishing because it's actually interesting. The problem is the treatment of it is so surface level, and so covered in a deleterious romance plot that is never properly fleshed out or believable, that its presence annoys more than aids - giving us a glimpse of a movie that would actually hold an audience's attention, as opposed to this dumpster fire of a film.
In the end, Dirt Music is an absolute chore to watch; an intolerable romance that never makes you even remotely believe the romantic elements. It’s an unendurable slog, couched in a frank disdain for its audience, and isn’t worth your time in the slightest.
Avoid Dirt Music at all costs - this is just a pugilistic catalyst for audience frustration and anger, couched in poor writing, performance and plot.