Movie Review: The Dig1st February 2021
While the thrilling and intrepid adventures to be found in excavation and archaeology are an untapped market for cinema, Netflix hedging their bets on such a story is a rather sudden shock. A pleasant shock, like finding out your uncle is a professional clown or that you’re in Yarm instead of a dentist’s office. Audiences will no doubt be aware of Netflix’s flimsy track record for originals, and there was some fear present that The Dig, the latest Ralph Fiennes-led film, would fall to many of the same issues the conglomerate titan had issued to its other projects. Hold out hope, though, there is enough room here to dig up an acceptable level of quality to kick the year off with.
Attempting to sap luxury out of cloudy skies and damp forests like a travel agent desperate to flog a holiday in Sussex, The Dig and director Simon Stone lap up the tweed and cobblestone country life. For the Downton Abbey fans out there, moments throughout from Stone will ring rather well. Cordial but stifled Britishness swarms and consumes the leading performances. Fiennes and Carey Mulligan make for a solid leading duo, the dialogue riffs off of them with a nice, natural ease. Inherent to the narrative these may be, Stone does a good job of butchering the pacing, leading to a handful of ineffective scenes that could be fixed rather easily had they been placed elsewhere in the narrative.
There is little point to scaring or sharing emotional draws so early into the film. It does well to build up the characters in later scenes, but the penny has already dropped, there is nothing more Stone can do when he jumps the shark barely twenty minutes into his running time. A scene such as that would work far better toward the state of new equilibrium, not when Stone and his crew are still dissecting the equipoise of old. Helped greatly by Fiennes’ role as Basil Brown, The Dig does overcome these hurdles better than it has any right to. Stumbling often is an obligatory and necessary attempt to find their way through to those pockets of emotional beauty, but the film doesn’t offer up enough time to muse on such enjoyable moments, instead, fluttering between its pre-war worries and acceptance of the class divide. Iconography changes make that clash obvious, and rather redundant at times when the characters are so close to one another. Another faux representation of historical inaccuracies.
Oddly relaxing at times, The Dig blends its Countryfile, backseat archaeology with a backdrop that showcases the horrors of war. An interesting blend that leans too heavily on its period piece mentality, a distance between the choreography and the companionship found between unlikely friends is lost, replaced by the usual humdrum affair of emotional turmoil and a warning for future generations that war is hell. We knew that already, hundreds of films have expressed the issues found in The Dig before, and better. With the remaining few themes not explored deeply enough, the best Stone and his crew can hope for is an amicable, wartime drama.