The Dig is directed by newcomer Simon Stone, stars Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, is based on a true story, and is set in the backdrop of an oncoming world war. In the film, Edith Pretty, played by Mulligan, contracts excavator Basil Brown, played by Fiennes, to unearth possible archaeological treasures in her estate. This results in a race to finish the job before the start of the second World War and a struggle between the different agendas in relation to the treasure. The movie was released on Netflix in January.
Fiennes and Mulligan yet again pull rank and demonstrate why they are household names when it comes to British actors. Fiennes depicts an unforgettable performance as a remarkable yet mild-mannered excavator Basil Brown. Fiennes excels in portraying a calm, aged Englishman that feels a little too much like a grandparent we wished we had had growing up. He is solemn, wise, humble and, more importantly, believable. Mulligan, on the other hand, plays a more layered character. Mrs. Pretty is a widowed owner of a massive estate whose health is put in question as the movie goes on and has to face outside pressure as well as her own inner struggles.
The film is fairly straightforward and not terribly ambitious. The whole movie centers on the fleeting nature of human life and the legacy we leave behind. Attention is paid to characters, yet most of their storylines are explored in relation to the dig. Themes of legacy, history, greed and love are explored. However, none of these are taken to satisfying depths. This, on the other hand, does not detract from the movie as any further inflection might have taken the film to more pretentious ground. Thankfully, for a movie that feels like classic January Oscar-bait, it knows not to be too apparent in this regard.
The Dig is Stone’s biggest project yet and, at times, this is fairly transparent. The camera makes questionable movements, as Stone opts for hand-held camera movements at seemingly random points in the movie with no clear motive. A handful of scenes also suffer from questionable editing as the audio and visuals are intertwined in a way that seems unnecessary and often comes across as baseless.
Nonetheless, when the camera is not being hand-held for no reason, cinematographer Mike Eley does produce more visually interesting shots. Particularly, scenes that are set at sundown are clear signs of Eley’s strengths as he manages to capture so much more than just the fading golden sun in the English countryside. Eley captures most of the character’s feelings in subtle expression and looks. No character seems like an exaggeration or an overdramatized portrayal we sometimes observe in the genre. The camera pays close attention the minute details in characters, adding layers but also contributing to a sense of realism.
Composer Stefan Gregory offers a very soothing piano-based score with light sections of string often accompanying the melodies. The soundtrack matches the tone and pace of the movie perfectly. The movie itself is no grand epic and the score follows suit. Nevertheless, Gregory does a fine job of following the action and also allowing space for contemplation.
The Dig is definitely a movie with a lot of heart. It brings to light the hidden stories of great men purposely forgotten by history. Fiennes and Mulligan carry the movie to its desired emotional effect and convince the audience of the true humanity of their past real life counterparts. Although there are some questionable decisions spaced through the film, it never becomes too pretentious as other January dramas. The story itself is riveting and worth watching; the fine acting choices elevate this film to great places.