Robert Connolly is one of Australia’s great modern directors, having exploded onto the film scene some twenty years ago with The Bank, which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the AFI awards, which he swiftly followed up with an impressive body of work that includes Paper Planes, The Turning, Balibo, Blueback, and the 2021 adaptation of Jane Harper’s best seller, The Dry.
That film, which featured Eric Bana as Detective Aaron Falk, set the box office afire in 2021 alongside High Ground and Penguin Bloom, with the trio making Australian film history as the first time that three Aussie flicks topped the local box office. Given the success of The Dry, it made sense that Connolly and Bana would return to Jane Harper’s Falk series with the second novel, Force of Nature. Where The Dry focused on a murder mystery in the middle of nowhere, Force of Nature takes Detective Falk to the Dandenongs to try and find missing business woman Alice (Anna Torv). Alice did not return with her colleagues (Deborra-Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, Lucy Ansell) after a hiking retreat, raising suspicion and concern. With heavy rains on the way, time is of the essence to find Alice before it’s too late.
While Force of Nature operates in the thriller genre, with Connolly harkening back to The Bank with a subplot about manipulative financial institutions, it is better approached as a character study of people under pressure. Falk’s return to the Dandenongs sees him recalling his youth when his mother also went missing in the same area, and it’s here that Force of Nature lingers into an examination of what family means in difficult times. Eric Bana has found a character he can comfortably slip into with Detective Aaron Falk, a figure who sits alongside Detective Jay Swan and Jack Irish as a compelling investigator getting to the bottom of a mystery. It helps that Bana is comfortably supported by a reliable cast, including the always great Anna Torv who owns the film, the welcome presence of Robin McLeavy who gives a subdued and powerful performance, and solid performances from newcomers Sisi Stringer and Lucy Ansell.
Curiously, even though I’ve been interviewing Australian filmmakers for almost a decade now, this is the first time I’ve had a chat with Robert Connolly. I’d previously aimed to catch up with him on the media trail for The Dry or Blueback, but circumstances meant that this was our first time chatting. As I joined the Zoom meeting, Robert immediately noticed the vast array of blurays and DVDs that sit behind me, pointing out the Agnes Varda Criterion Collection. Our conversation starts there, and ferrets through different avenues of discussion, weaving in and out about Robert’s work as a filmmaker, what it means to support emerging talent in the way he does as an executive producer with films like Alena Lodkina’s Petrol, Sari Braithwaite’s Because We Have Each Other, and Jub Clerc’s Sweet As, before we settle on discussing why Force of Nature is the hardest shoot he’s embarked on yet.
Force of Nature launches in Australian cinemas from 8 February 2024, and if there’s one reason to see it on the big screen, it’s to become overwhelmed by Andrew Commis’ immersive cinematography. No doubt if this one does well that we’ll see Robert adapting the third and final Falk book, Exiles, down the line.
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The above audio has reference to the Grampians. The correct location is the Dandenongs.
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