THE DIG is a feature worth seeing once
THE DIG (2021)
The Dig is a period piece that is half a compelling story of friendship and half an inconsequential love story set against the backdrop of a recently realized true story of the excavation of Sutton Hoo.
Simon Stone directs The Dig as his second feature with a realistic grit, transporting us back into the English countryside of 1938. Apart from that however, Stone's sense of praisable direction ends. Members of the cast such as Fiennes and Mulligan's chemistry work well across from one another, but that's primarily because of their abilities and less so what the filmmaker did behind the camera. The direction doesn't assist in letting us know how much time has passed between major plot points or decisions, so the film feels at times rapidly paced and at others a slog to manage. As a history lesson it operates to its fullest limitations, being as it's a reimagining of the events that may or may not have taken place around the Sutton Hoo discoveries.
Based on John Preston’s 2016 novel of the same name, Netflix’s The Dig is a fascinating historical drama with some ill-conceived romance contributions. The story leads with landowner Edith Pretty hiring archaeologist Basil Brown to excavate whatever might lay beneath the mysterious mounds on her property. As Brown and his team proceed to dig, they make a remarkable discovery. The novel presumably focuses on very similar themes and plot points, so it’s most likely not entirely the scribe Moira Buffini’s fault for its inconsistent tone. From a hidden terminal disease, to a grand discovery, to an unwanted interruption, and finally to a bitter, fitting end - these bullet points are the finer details of the film with inconsequential characters and interactions littered throughout.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Ralph Fiennes devours the scenery with his charming, invested Mr. Brown and his friendship with Carey Mulligan’s Edith Pretty and her son Robert (Archie Barnes). When any combination of these three are present on screen, the film is prominently successful, but when the numerous side plots come into play, the film becomes strenuous to get through. Ben Chaplin, Johnny Flynn, and Lily James are easily the biggest waste; merely a distraction to pull us away from the characters we want more of within this nearly two hour feature.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Visually the film feels appropriate with its costumes, buildings, vehicles, and accessories matching the aimed 30s aesthetic. Cinematographer Mike Eley delivers some beautiful scenery featuring the discoveries and the rustic countryside. However, the visuals outside of the property, whether in a hotel or a bar, feel almost out of tune from the rest of the feature, breaking away from the intriguing flow of Brown’s discovery.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
When the film would drag or lose steam, which happened occasionally, the score would raise these scenes significantly from completely uninteresting filler to at least intriguing. During the essential scenes where Ralph Fiennes’ Brown was engaging with Carey Mulligan’s Edith, the music did a tremendous job of making you root for the two to be together; maybe not romantically, but at least continuously until the job Edith hired Brown for is complete. When discoveries are made, the score is heightened and gets your adrenaline pumping, but it’s the slower moments of the film with the side characters that make the thrilling moments seem far and in between. Nevertheless, even when the film wasn’t at its best, Stefon Gregory’s score exceeded expectations.
Within the 112 minute runtime, there is most certainly a fantastic film buried within a mixed bag of a picture, never to be unearthed. Ralph Fiennes is top of his class, bringing out his best performance since his turn as M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s regrettable that the story forces his relationship with Ms. Pretty and their discovery onto the backburner for an unsatisfying love story between secondary characters. It’s not all for nothing however, as it brought a great historical event to my attention, which was something that I wouldn’t have been aware of before. It’s a feature worth seeing once, but there’s certainly nothing here worth returning to.
THE DIG premieres January 29th on Netflix