We meet Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) living a comfortable life in a gorgeous beach town on the coast of Australia with her significant other, Jim (David Wenham), a well-connected fisherman, and his two boys. However, even amidst all of this beauty and luxury, we see Georgie is lonely and unhappy. A chance meeting with Lu (Garrett Hedlund), who’s poaching Jim’s lobster traps, creates a spark of interest and intrigue that will change both of their lives forever in “Dirt Music.”
On the surface and in the beginning, this is a passionate and forbidden love story between two lonely people. However, it is quickly evident the ghosts that haunt Lu build an impenetrable emotional blockade as Georgie wrestles with her current situation with Jim and the history between Lu’s and Jim’s families.
Lu and Georgie’s affair is an intense love story as it unburies the secrets that haunt Lu, who suffered a horrific tragedy involving his family. Confronting and sharing the guilt he suffers and must live with is like a life-long prison sentence of his mind and heart, one he will never escape. While Georgie’s life is less tragic, it’s no less difficult for her to comprehend the consequences of her actions and how the decisions she makes will influence her and those she loves. It’s a slow burn as it forces the characters to look deep within themselves, and no matter our own experiences, we can readily identify with both Lu and Georgie, thanks to the actors’ all-consuming performances.
Hedlund portrays not just a broken man, but a man who struggles with the judgments of others and the social class in which he can not climb out of. Hedlund’s expressive eyes carry the weight of a thousand lives, all taking wrong turns and punishing himself. The pain is evident in his entire being, from his body language to his voice, but music and Georgie provide a positive light and a ray of hope.
Counter to the character of Lu, Macdonald’s “Georgie” is a wealthy former female sailing captain whose regrets and fears consume her. Macdonald skillfully becomes a woman struggling with relationships in all aspects of her life, and as her character finds herself at a crossroads but must always look behind her as she nervously pushes forward. Together with Hedlund, Macdonald’s grounded elegance allows us to relate to her as she navigates the rough waters ahead.
“Dirt Music” as the title would suggest, has gorgeous songs interwoven during the film but never out of context and always appropriately placed. Hedlund, who first showcased his sultry singing voice in “Country Strong,” soothes us again with his folk music from the Land Down Under. The importance of music accentuates the meaning of life within the movie and we grasp a better understanding of who Hedlund’s character is.
Set in the lush landscape of a small fishing town in Australia, the film as it captures the serenity of the beaches and islands but, even more importantly, the people and how they are connected. Small town talk, everyone knowing everyone’s business and never being able to escape your past is a vital part of the story, and if you’ve ever lived in a small town, this certainly rings true.
“Dirt Music” is a subtle yet captivating story of love, forgiveness of oneself and healing. The compellingly authentic performances of not just the main characters but the supporting ones as well elevate this film to a higher level. The ending might be pushing the boundaries of believability, the emotion behind it never does.
Reel Talk rating: 3½ stars