The Dry Land

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The Dry Land

Less a fully formed movie than a feature-length PSA, Ryan Piers Williams’s look at PTSD among soldiers certainly doesn’t lack for earnestness. Its troubled vet, James (O’Nan), couldn’t be more all-American: He’s a Texan who loves his wife (Ferrera), looks after his ailing mama (Melissa Leo) and wants to ease back into everyday life after returning from a tough tour in Iraq. But those violent night terrors and that peculiar memory loss surrounding an attack on his battalion won’t go away; before you have time to utter “He’s a ticking time bomb,” James has trashed his trailer and sunk into a six-pack--fueled funk. What’s left for a battle-scarred warrior to do but hit the road with his beefy Army buddy (Valderrama) and find out exactly what happened that day in Basra?

Only jackanapes and jackasses would deny that the experience of war can cause psychic damage, but does that mean we have to sit through such a schematic, dogmatic melodrama about the subject? There’s little room for talents like O’Nan, Ferrera and Leo to construct three-dimensional characters amid all the issuemongering, and the sense that you’re being lectured—instead of swept up in a story that treats suffering and redemption as something other than means to an end—never quite evaporates. If we’d wanted a sermon, we’d have gone to church, thanks.—David Fear

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