Jindabyne (2006) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for disturbing images, language, and some nudity
Running Time: 123 min.

Cast: Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, Chris Haywood, Deborra-Lee Furness, John Howard, Leah Purcell, Stelios Yiakmis, Eva Lazzaro, Sean Rees-Wemyss, Alice Garner, Simon Stone
Director: Ray Lawrence
Screenplay: Beatrix Christian (based on the short story, "So Much Water So Close to Home" by Raymond Carver)

Review published April 30, 2007

It's not the first time that Raymond Carver's short story, "So Much Water, So Close to Home" has been the inspiration for a major motion picture, as many elements of it had been utilized in Robert Altman's 1993 film, Short Cuts.  As you can imagine from the 123-minute run time of this treatment by director Ray Lawrence (Lantana, Bliss) and first-time screenwriter Beatrix Christian, the events within the film have been altered and fleshed out considerably, but the gist of the film, the effect that a woman's dead body has on the fishermen that find her, remains the same.

Jindabyne is a town in New South Wales, Australia, which had been moved back in the 1960s to higher ground when the dam that contains the Snowy River had been made to flood the previous location -- the old town is completely under water, now known as Lake Jindabyne.  The area is also a great place to catch trout, which is what four Jindabyne men set out to do out in a secluded river in the mountains, where they discover the recently-murdered body of a young Aboriginal woman.  Their cell phones don't work in that area, and feeling they are too far invested in their trip to turn back, the men decide to tie the woman down and wait until their fishing expedition is just about over before reporting the body to the authorities. 

Once the body is reported, that's when the lives of the men and their families turn upside down, as their wives are growing increasingly upset that the stories told by the men as far as why they didn't call for help sooner are inconsistent and flimsy.  Worse, the local papers soon make the fact that the men remained to fish an extra couple of days after the body's discovery a front page event, bringing great shame upon the men, their families, and the town.  With confidences shattered in the families, and disgust directed at them from the community, the healing process is going to be long in coming.

Jindabyne is methodical and a bit slow to develop, but it is also finely acted with rich characterizations.  Strong performances abound, especially by Laura Linney (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Squid and the Whale) and Gabriel Byrne (Played, Assault on Precinct 13) as a married couple who are in a constant struggle to maintain the semblance of a normal family by burying everything troubling them within themselves, until they hardly have anything left to talk about.  It's more fascinating to learn about the individual lives of the inhabitants of the small town than it is for the murder elements, although the way the wounds are constantly ripped open go hand in hand with the dark secrets that the main characters have been harboring, even before the discovery of the woman's body. 

The mood of the film needs to be mentioned, as not everyone is going to be in the spirit of the somber, morose tone that Lawrence develops for the piece from the outset.  It's not a happy film, filled with characters that haven't felt a great deal of joy for a very long time, just barely holding on to what they have because they are too afraid to think about the past, or the difficulties of the present.  It's also not readily evident just what the film is about, as the multilayered narrative does keep the focus constantly shifting between various characters and their various predicaments, but in each case, it's about those that hide emotions and thoughts deep within themselves that they think does no good to be let out.  It could also be a semi-allegory about the persistence of the descendants of the white settlers of Australia to continue their lives without having to deal with the cultural divide between themselves and the Aborigines, and what has happened to them over the years.

Like the dead town of Old Jindabyne, the feelings of those in the relocated town are immersed until barely visible, as those who have lived there constantly seek for higher elevation to exist, but their past always creeps to the surface to haunt them like ghosts rumored to reside under the lake.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo