The feature film debut of writer-director Ryan Piers Williams, The Dry Land centers on James (Ryan O’Nan, below right), an Iraqi War veteran who struggles to reconnect with family and friends, including wife Sara (America Ferrera), upon returning home to small town Texas. Riddled with post-traumatic stress disorder and unable to reconcile his experiences overseas with the staid life he left at home, James sets off on a road trip to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., hoping a wounded pal can shed light on the combat accident he can’t remember.
As James’ homebound friend and fellow vet, respectively, Jason Ritter and Wilmer Valderrama alternately inject some soulfulness and squirrelly energy into the movie. But, almost beat by beat, all the dramatic conflicts here are very familiar in both construction and source, from quick-trigger sexual aggression and communicative dysfunction to boozy masculine bonding gone wrong.
Meanwhile, the film’s female characters — shrews or wounded doves, all — are mostly underwritten to a ghastly degree. And while there’s lip service about “understanding,” in none of the supporting characters’ actions do they ever seem to reflect a realization that direct confrontation is not the best form of engagement with psychologically fragile soldiers. Viewers needn’t have seen either Coming Home or Army Wives for this to ring essentially hollow. Narratively, The Dry Land just goads when it’s convenient and shrinks when it suits its purposes, never feeling like an honest exploration of its characters’ problems. For more information, click here. (Maya/Freestyle, R, 92 minutes)