Home From Iraq, a Soldier Searches The Dry Land

The dry land that we actually see in The Dry Land is the Texas dirt that James (Ryan O'Nan) comes home to. Strictly speaking, James has returned alive, but his wary squint seems stuck on the Iraqi desert he has just left. Disoriented and selectively amnesiac, he can't pick up the cues to the past he left or reintegrate to small-town life, which director Ryan Piers Williams gets down convincingly with his Anglo-Tejano West Texas of spread-out, fragmented families. His wife (America Ferrara) notices her man isn't quite the same around the time she wakes up in a chokehold. As plot developments diligently refill James's cup of sorrow—who thinks a welcome-home job at a slaughterhouse is a good idea?—he skips town, trying to fill in blacked-out memories with a returned battle buddy (a road-worn Wilmer Valderrama) and by visiting an incapacitated friend at Walter Reed Hospital, a reunion scene that turns on a dime from tentative sentimentality to almost black-comic obscenity. Such really unexpected moments are outnumbered by programmatic ones, but The Dry Land does slip inside the inescapable, closed-circle logic of despair, and O'Nan's shy, precarious performance keeps you with him to the edge of the abyss.

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