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Dry Land

The Dry Land

Director: Ryan Piers Williams

Cast: America Ferrera, Melissa Leo, Ryan O'Nan


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A soldier comes home from the war but can't find peace in his heart and mind in this independent drama. James (Ryan O'Nan) returns to his hometown in Texas after serving a long hitch in Iraq, and is warmly welcomed by his wife, Sara (America Ferrera), and best friend, Michael (Jason


A soldier comes home from the war but can't find peace in his heart and mind in this independent drama. James (Ryan O'Nan) returns to his hometown in Texas after serving a long hitch in Iraq, and is warmly welcomed by his wife, Sara (America Ferrera), and best friend, Michael (Jason Ritter). However, his homecoming party is awkward and it's clear James is not the same as he was before he left. Sara's father, David (Benito Martinez), arranges for James to get a job working beside Michael at a meat processing plant, but when an argument with a co-worker turn violent, James' life goes into a tailspin and Sara leaves him. James still hasn't come to terms with his experiences in Iraq, and a reunion with one of his Army buddies, Raymond (Wilmer Valderrama), convinces him he needs to make contact with Henry (Diego Klattenhoff), a fellow soldier who was part of an incident that scarred them both. The Dry Land was the first feature film from writer and director Ryan Piers Williams, and received its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
About 15 minutes into The Dry Land, a redneck is trying to get a rise out of a veteran who just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and between spits of tobacco juice he asks, "So, did the war f*ck you up or what?" The old Hollywood cliché of the noble warrior returning from battle with little more than a scratch has in recent years been supplanted by a more realistic picture of soldiers dealing with both physical and emotional scars, and that's certainly apt as America remains mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where men and women are serving long, harrowing assignments only to be sent back again months later. The Dry Land is a thoughtful attempt to tell the story of one returning soldier struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder as he tries to readjust to a "normal" life; it's crafted with enough compassion and good intentions that it's all but impossible not to wish that the film were better. The Dry Land opens as James (Ryan O'Nan) arrives in his hometown of El Paso, TX, after serving in Iraq. James is greeted by a small welcoming party, his wife, Sarah (America Ferrera), and his best friend, Michael (Jason Ritter), and the next day his family throws a homecoming celebration for him. Everyone is happy to see James safe and sound, and his father-in-law says he can have a job in his meat-processing plant. But James is wary about questions regarding his experiences in battle, and when his young nephew asks him if he killed anyone in Iraq, James replies that he doesn't know. James isn't bluffing -- he lost several friends when an explosive device hit their vehicle while returning to base, and now James cannot recall the details, try as he might. Something is clearly troubling James, even if he won't talk about it; he's uncommunicative with his wife and friends, he wakes up in a panic realizing he's nearly strangled Sarah, and a few beers after work with his buddies turns into an ugly bender with James violently attacking both Sarah and Michael. Sarah has had enough, and leaves their trailer home to spend some time with her folks; after trashing his living room, James hops in his pickup and pays an unannounced visit to Raymond (Wilmer Valderrama), a friend who served with him and is dealing with his own problems. James is going to Washington, D.C., to see Henry (Diego Klattenhoff), another soldier from their company who is still recovering from the explosion, and he asks Raymond to tag along. Seeing Henry is a sobering experience for both James and Raymond, as he's lost his legs and part of his hand and has no idea what his future holds. And while Henry helps James remember that traumatic day in Iraq, it doesn't give him closure, instead sending him deeper into a self-destructive spiral. The Dry Land is full of good intentions, and it's obvious director and screenwriter Ryan Piers Williams takes his message about the problems of returning veterans seriously -- the end credits offer information on how to get help for PTSD before listing the cast and crew -- but in many respects the film lays it on a little thick in the name of realism. While James' problems are believable and actor Ryan O'Nan plays him with understated honesty, it's not enough that James has a lousy job -- he has to work in a slaughterhouse and kill cattle for a living. It's not enough that he has a difficult relationship with his mother -- she has to be wildly irresponsible and in failing health. It's not enough that he's having trouble with his wife -- she has to be spending time with his best friend, too. And when James, apropos of nothing, checks the firing action on his handgun not long after returning home, it telegraphs the movie's final act with unfortunate accuracy. America Ferrera, who plays Sarah, delivers a fine, understated performance, and she's good enough that it's a shame she doesn't have more to do (she clearly believed in this project, since she's also an executive producer). The same can be said for Jason Ritter, who does well with the thankless best friend role, and though Wilmer Valderrama tends to overplay what little comic relief this movie has, his dramatic skills are solid and he and O'Nan are instantly believable as a pair of Army buddies struggling with a lot of baggage now that they're home. The rough, dusty look of the film seems standard-issue for a lot of independent dramas set in the Southwest, but cinematographer Gavin Kelly gives the picture a clean, unobtrusive visual style that suits the material well. The Dry Land is Ryan Piers Williams' first feature film, and it shows he has real promise -- he works well with actors and can tell a story in a clean and uncluttered manner without overstating the emotional material. But as a screenwriter, he has a way to go yet, and as powerful as this film is in its best moments, too much feels like the familiar tale of the damaged returning warrior that's become sadly common in the past decade or so. The Dry Land deals with a subject that's far too important and affects the lives of too many people to become an indie-film cliché, which is the way this picture sometimes feels, despite the love the filmmakers show for the real-life Jameses in America.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Maya Home Ent
[Wide Screen]

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
America Ferrera Sara
Melissa Leo Martha
Ryan O'Nan James
Jason Ritter Michael
Wilmer Valderrama Raymond
Benito Martinez David
Diego Klattenhoff Henry
June Diane Raphael Susie
Ana Claudia Talancón Adriana
Ethan Suplee Jack
Barry "Shabaka" Henley Col. Stephen Evans
Starwind Clive
Kate Schroeder Kathy
Jeremiah Bitsui Luis
Candice Costello Veronica
Zion Sandoval Ian
Evan Jones Joe
David Smith Bill
Misty Upham Gloria the Receptionist
Destiny Alvarez Raymond's Daughter
Ybarra Reyes Raymond's Son
Fredrick Lopez Store Clerk
Therese Olson Sasha
Jenny Gabrielle Tina
Esodie Geiger Nurse
Russell Friedenberg Dr. Stephenson
Kiira Arai Cindy
Sasha Spielberg Sally the Checkout Girl
Ty Mitchell Teddy
Donovan Thomas Don
Arron Shiver Police Officer #1
Johnnie Hector Police Officer #2

Technical Credits
Ryan Piers Williams Director,Screenwriter
Nicole Abellera Casting
Sergio Aguero Executive Producer
April Kimble Musical Direction/Supervision
David Baca Production Designer
Nikki Barbanell Associate Producer
Jason Michael Berman Co-producer
Brinton Bryan Asst. Director
Jerry Carnivale Costumes/Costume Designer
Moctesuma Esparza Executive Producer
America Ferrera Executive Producer
Sabine Hoffman Editor
Lindsay Hovel Associate Producer
Margo Johnston Co-producer
Gavin Kelly Cinematographer
Berman Margo Co-producer
Mark G. Mathis Co-producer
Jeanne McCarthy Casting
Laura Mehlhaff Associate Producer
Dean Parks Score Composer
Heather Rae Producer

Scene Index

Commentary with Ryan Piers Williams and American Ferrera; Theatrical trailer; Resources for care


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