Directed by: Robert Connolly
Written by: Robert Connolly
Starring: Eric Bana, Anna Torv, Deborra-Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, Lucy Ansell, Jacqueline McKenzie, Tony Briggs, Richard Roxburgh
Released: February 8, 2024
Grade: B+

Force of Nature

In the history of Australian-made cinema, only 16 films have grossed more than $20 million AUD at the local box-office.  Director Baz Luhrmann dominates with his lavish, big-budget productions (he has 5 films including the recent Elvis) but the list reminds us of the smaller flicks which wove their way into the record books through positive word of mouth.  These include Lion, Red Dog, The Dressmaker, and one of the big success stories of the COVID-impacted 2021, The Dry.  The Robert Connolly-directed feature featured a plethora of great performances and, in also being nominated for 11 AACTA Awards, rightly deserved its success.  See it if you haven’t already!

Journalist-turned-author Jane Harper has penned three novels centred on police detective Aaron Falk.  Eric Bana brilliantly brought the character to life in The Dry (loved the subtlety) and he reprises the role in this adaptation of Harper’s follow-up book, Force of Nature.  It’s marketed as “The Dry 2” to help with ticket sales but in reality, this is a fresh narrative with zero connection to the earlier movie.  The only returning character is Falk himself.

Another visible point of difference is the setting.  The Dry was set in a small, drought-stricken country town whereas Force of Nature takes place in one of the lushest places imaginable – a dense, wet, near-impenetrable rainforest.  It’s referred to in the film as the fictious Giralang Ranges but shooting took place at Victorian national parks known to many Aussies – the Otways, Dandenong Ranges, and Yarra Valley.

The story revolves around a middle-aged woman, Alice Russell (Torv), who has gone missing in the ranges while “building teamwork” on a multi-day, corporate hiking retreat.  The local police have enlisted a sizeable team to help with the search but Falk has involved himself because of a professional connection with Alice.  He suspects foul play and, along with his fellow detective (McKenzie), seeks to interrogate other employees on the retreat.  The more questions he asks, the more secrets spill into the open…

It’s not the smoothest flowing storyline.  As we saw with The Dry, director Robert Connolly juggles two main time frames – Falk solving a mystery in the present while haunted by something from his past.  The childhood flashbacks don’t add much and feel too convenient.  In terms of the current day material, there’s a degree of cinematic “stage managing” which is hard to shake.  Someone’s life is in immediate danger… and yet the interviews of key individuals take place over several days.  Doesn’t add up.

On the whole though, Force of Nature is a worthwhile trip to the cinema.  I loved the greyness to the characters and the difficulty in determining which players to root for.  Even the “nice guy” Falk has his flaws.  The whodunnit served up is also a good one and it’ll hold your attention for two hours as you look for signs of slippage in the probing conversations.  Kudos to the crew for highlighting the sights and sounds of the rainforest – it’s as much of a feature character as the actors themselves.

Featuring strong performances once again (it’s hard to pick a standout), Force of Nature should satisfy fans of The Dry, and fans of Australian cinema.