He’s played guillotine-happy kings and incredible Hulks, and yet somehow, Eric Bana is always the calmest one in the room. The 55-year-old screen legend known for blockbusters such as Munich, Chopper and The Other Boleyn Girl has an undeniably charismatic authenticity to him that is both disarming and warm. His latest film, however, is anything but.
The Hollywood legend is returning to Aussie screens in Robert Connolly’s latest thriller, Force of Nature: The Dry 2. A follow-up to the 2021 break-out smash that was based on Jane Harper’s best-selling mystery novel, the new flick takes viewers back into a rugged world of chaos, intrigue and murder, at the centre of which lies Bana’s crusading Federal Agent Aaron Falk.
This time around, the weathered detective finds himself caught in the crossfires of an engaging missing persons case, but as the story begins to unravel, so too does an intriguing web of lies. For Bana, Force of Nature offered a rare opportunity to slip back into Harper’s unique world, something he described as ‘cheating’.
“It felt like a bit of a cheat really,” Bana tells us. “You never get a chance to reprise roles in films, so to step into the shoes of someone that I already knew and had done some development on was great, but the fresh challenge was ‘where does he go from here?’ and how does this story evolve. It was a lot of fun.”
The plot is simple; five women take part in a corporate hiking retreat, only four come back. It’s up to Federal Agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper (played by Jacqueline McKenzie) to uncover the truth and expose an ever-expanding tangle of deceit.
A classic whodunnit with all the works, Force of Nature, much like the first film in the series, hinges entirely on Jane Harper’s captivating source material. The Aussie author’s innate ability to revitalise the modern murder mystery genre was responsible for the 2021 film’s slightly unexpected success, with The Dry reaching No.1 at the Australian box office and grossing $20 million worldwide. As Bana explains, the success of the original film was down to Harper’s unique handle on misdirection; a skill that he believes is the key to crafting the perfect murder mystery.
“If you’ve read the source material and you’re presented with the film, at some point, you forget who did it. You are completely confused or misdirected,” Bana explains. “Jane (Harper – author) is great at that misdirection in the way that she casts her characters to be so individually different. That’s the key.”
This time around, Bana isn’t alone in his investigations. Aussie icons Deborra-lee Furness and Richard Roxburgh also enter the frame, with the former revealing the experience of stepping into Harper’s literary, and literal, jungle was “brutal”.
“It was brutal, but as an actor, I didn’t have to pretend I was in this environment I was really there with the leeches, the rain, the trees hitting you in the face, falling on the ground, in the freezing cold, no acting required,” she jokes.
Furness says she was drawn to the project due to the unique nature of the cast and plot, which saw a diverse ensemble of women battling more than just the elements.
“Not only were all the characters very different, we as people were all very different,” Furness continues. “It was a great chemistry and alchemy that we were all brought together to deal with our differences, the challenge of the environment and then you’ve got the script. It was an exciting challenge.”
As Furness revealed, the entire project was shot on location in the rugged rainforest in Victoria’s remote west. A challenging task, filmmaker Robert Connolly was responsible for bringing Harper’s unique vision of the dense terrain to life, something he nailed with the first film, however, this time around, the scenery couldn’t be more different.
Where the first film depicted a rugged Australian wasteland characterised by red dirt and dust, Force of Nature pulls into a thick, dense bushland country on Melbourne’s outer fringe. Throughout the film, the vivid landscape dominates the screen, arriving almost as a character all of its own. Living and breathing, the all-engulfing setting paints the perfect backdrop for a disappearance case and you can’t help but appreciate the vast endlessness on display. It’s all part of Harper’s unique literary jungle, whereby characters aren’t necessarily dropped into a setting but rather completely engulfed by them.
“We’re gifted that through Jane Harper; her landscapes are so evocative and she really gets to the essence of what they are like to be in,” Bana says. “So when you read the books you feel like you are there. The challenge for Rob (Connolly – director) was to find this world and try to make sure that the audience felt it was true to the book. Again, it’s uniquely Australian; it’s not a caricature, it’s not what we normally see. Hopefully, that will help the film travel in the way that The Dry did because overseas audiences love to immerse themselves in that.”
The unique setting painted a picture far removed from what we’ve seen on film before, but that didn’t come without challenge. As newcomer Lucy Ansell, who plays Bree in the film, explained, traversing the rugged terrain gave a certain sense of authenticity to the production, which undoubtedly comes through in the final edit.
“Sometimes, I feel like it was a miracle if we made a take without one of us slipping over,” Ansel says. “You would traverse that bush and we would get to the bottom and I would turn around and see our amazing cinematographer Andy Commis and the whole team behind up to their knees in mud. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.”
A female-led ensemble cast, Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is a refreshing change of pace for the contemporary film scene, loaded with some of Australia’s brightest new talent. Alongside Aussie screen legends Bana, Furness, Mindhunter‘s Anna Torv and Romper Stomper’s Jacqueline McKenzie, the new thriller introduces audiences to rising stars Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, and Lucy Ansell. As Ansell explains, working with such a diverse cast of women was what drew her to the project initially.
“It was intimidating. I feel like there were just so many incredible powerhouses, I really was sitting there going ‘why am I here?'” newcomer Lucy Ansell, who plays Bree in the film, explains. “I just felt so lucky. I was sneakily learning from others. A lot of talent in one room and a lot of experience as well.”
For Jacqueline McKenzie, who plays Bana’s hard-nosed partner, Carmen Cooper, the story was eerily similar. Despite having a long list of remarkable credits to her name, including Deep Blue Sea, Romper Stomper and The 440, the chance to team up with Robert Connolly and Eric Bana again was too good to pass up.
“Robert Connolly I’ve wanted to work with on a much deeper level than when I worked with him on a short film straight out of acting school,” McKenzie says. “Eric Bana I have loved for such a long time. I was a guest on his comedy show back in the day and he was such an energy even then. To see him flourish and the power that he has as a creative, I just want to be around that.”
Directed and written by Robert Connolly, Force of Nature: The Dry 2 will premiere in cinemas on 8 February 2024. The follow-up to 2021’s The Dry, it is based on Jane Harper’s best-selling novel of the same name. Directed by Robert Connolly, it stars Eric Bana, Deborra-Lee Furness, Anna Torv, Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, Lucy Ansell, Jacqueline McKenzie and Richard Roxburgh. You can check out the official trailer below.
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