There are quite a few war films, but not many that concern a soldier’s life when he returns to the real world (Born on the 4th of July, Deer Hunter, Rambo). What sets The Dry Land apart is its direct engagement with how war-induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects a soldier’s life and those around him.
James (Ryan O’Nan) returns home from a tour in Iraq, unable to remember the details of an RPG hit to his humvee that killed two and horribly maimed another. His first night with his wife Sarah (America Ferrara), he starts choking her in her sleep. When James takes a job at a slaughterhouse, seeing the cow hit with a cattle gun and its throat cut (while it still appears to be moving), is deeply unsettling for James and audience alike. These events, coupled with the ones from Iraq that he can’t even remember, represent an avalanche of trouble heading his way.
Though the love between James and Sarah isn’t so convincing, James’ painful highway to hell does ring true. O’Nan’s performance drives the film and elicits compassion for this wounded animal. I have to note, the wives could have enjoyed better depictions: Sarah hardly spends any time trying to get James to open up before she’s staying with her parents. And when war-buddy Raymond (Wilmer Valderrama) sets out to visit Walter Reed (and finds a threeway along the way), he yells to his wife that he’ll be back in a few days as she chases the truck like a sad puppy.
Not only does the war in Afghanistan and Iraq return a higher number of wounded than other conflicts, a growing number of veterans are arrested, abusing alcohol, and/or committing suicide. Given these real world trends, The Dry Land is an important film for those needing help, the family/friends surrounding such soldiers, and general public awareness. The Dry Land effectively highlights the fact that just because you can’t see any wounds doesn’t mean you aren’t f*cked up.