A Dry White Season is a rather faithful adaptation of the critically acclaimed Euzhan Palcy novel. The film attempts to portray the infamous South African policy of apartheid, beginning with a massacre of peaceful demonstrators that occurred in 1976.Perhaps the point could have been made without the disturbing depiction of children being shot in such graphic detail. Such on-screen brutality seems drastic even under today’s less constrictive standards. I’m sure it can, and likely has, been argued that these events require realism, much as the opening salvo of “Saving Private Ryan” has been justified. In any case, the film certainly makes its point, leaving a lingering impression.
If anything, the film does provide a showcase for some quality performances. Donald Sutherland is most convincing as school teacher and former athletic star who finds himself compelled by conscience into the moral struggle.
While the film’s opening massacre is a stunning display, the more effective delivery of the film’s message can be found in the subsequent torture and persecution of a father seeking answers in his son’s death. The moral is cheapened somewhat with the arrival of Susan Sarandon’s journalist character. The role exists only to point out these injustices. If the story itself hasn’t made the point, anything more is merely exploitation. Sarandon’s roles are usually found taking on one cause or another. The use of this device only diminishes the tragic events portrayed here.
Marlin Brando delivers one of his best modern roles as a barrister putting the secret police on trial at an inquest hearing. It is here that some of the most powerful elements are to be found. Unfortunately the scenes are but a segue from one part of the film to another.
A Dry White Season is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The bit rate falls mostly in the 4-5 mbps range throughout. The film features an adequate print. Colors are often soft with above average flesh tones. Colors are heavy in earth tones that tend to create a drab appearance. The effect is likely intended. Darks are OK, but there is often not enough contrast. Levels of darkness and shadow tend to blend, obscuring any fine lines or detail. The courtroom scenes are perhaps the clearest. Colors are more carefully defined.
We’re talking a very basic Dolby Digital 2.0 track here. Thick accents do not provide for easy to understand dialogue. At times it seems nearly impossible to distinguish words. Making the task harder is the soft overall mix. You’ll need to crank your system to hear anything at all clearly. The score is usually subtle, providing mostly some emotional cues. There isn’t much in the way of range anywhere on the soundtrack.
A trailer is all the bonus material provided in this release. The menus are completely plain and static. The opening forces you to skip through an advertisement.
A Dry White Season certainly began its life as a noble effort. The result is a very watchable film. It makes the unfortunate mistake of peaking too early. Apartheid is every bit the civil rights struggle our own nation has had to come to grips with. The film might have done a better job helping us to make the connection. Such an effort would have made the events more real with greater impact. Unfortunately the film never makes this necessary connection. Of course the “task is not an easy one”.