Saturday, August 7, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Dry Land

The Dry Land
Directed by Ryan Piers Williams
Released July 30, 2010

A few years ago, it wasn’t so easy to find a movie dealing with hot-button topics related to the “War on Terror” and soldiers coming home from abroad. Now, as soldiers are still stationed overseas, more and more films are tackling the subject of what happens when soldiers return from the throes of war and must readjust to life at home. In 2008, films like “The Lucky Ones” and “Stop-Loss” began to broach the topic, and last year “The Hurt Locker” hinted at it while “Brothers” put a familial spin on the subject. “The Dry Land” transplants a soldier from one desert to another and chronicles his harrowing journey back to normalcy.

Stars America Ferrera and Wilmer Valderrama discuss the film

“The Dry Land” is an intimate, personal exploration of the effects of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Star America Ferrera, who plays Sarah, the wife of returning soldier James, stresses that this is an honest and true story, but not a universal story. Ryan O’Nan, who stars as James, underlines that this story doesn’t have a political agenda; instead, it’s just “the story of this one guy.” Director Ryan Piers Williams describes it as a “coming home movie” rather than a war movie. O’Nan emphasizes that “we’ve seen the footage James is replaying in his head, and seeing it again becomes redundant.” In keeping with this line of thinking, there are no flashbacks in “The Dry Land” to James in the midst of war: all he and the audience have is the reality of the world and the place in which he now exists.

Director Ryan Piers Williams and star Ryan O'Nan discuss the film

For Ferrera and costar Wilmer Valderrama, spreading the word about PTSD and bringing this film to people all around the country is of prime importance. Ferrera explains that military audiences that have seen the film acknowledge that this is just the tip of the experience while non-military audiences often presume that this must be the worst case scenario. Without a solution to the politics of ending the current conflict and bringing soldiers home, Valderrama believes that “we can aim to be more prepared for PTSD today,” and Williams says that “what we can do is to support the people who are coming back.” Valderrama describes PTSD as a “family affair, a family effort,” as the film portrays it, and notes that there has been a psychologist present at some Q & As of the film o answer the wealth of questions that are asked about PTSD.

One of the things that separates “The Dry Land” out from the films that came before it is a lack of sensationalism or big budget (IMDB estimates it at $1 million). This little film sets its story in rural Texas and even sends James to work in a slaughterhouse of all places, making for one very meaningful metaphor. A small, tight-knit cast affords audiences the opportunity to really get to know these characters and begin to understand their struggles. O’Nan performs commendably for his first feature film role (as a lead, no less!), and Ferrera and Valderrama, most widely known as the title character on “Ugly Betty” and Fez on “That 70s Show,” respectively, get the chance to prove that they can do drama just as effectively as comedy. Melissa Leo, Jason Ritter, and Benito Martinez also offer finely-tuned supporting performances that help to make the landscape of the film feel real. “The Dry Land” may be a bleak, depressing film, but it’s an important one with a message that should be transmitted to people around the country, military and civilian.


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