2006, R, 123 min. Directed by Ray Lawrence. Starring Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, Chris Haywood, Deborra-Lee Furness, John Howard, Leah Purcell, Eva Lazzaro, Sean Rees-Wemyss.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 1, 2007
Australian director Lawrence, who scored an arthouse hit six years ago with the psychological suspense drama Lantana, returns to somewhat familiar terrain with this follow-up, Jindabyne. Both films examine the often tenuous fabric that unites husbands and wives and how a small tear in that cloth can start the complete dishevelment of the relationship. Jindabyne, however, never manages to get its relationships framed in as sharp focus as Lantana and goes down some unproductive side roads in its attempt to get to the point. The film's haziness might be easily attributed to the fact that it is based on Raymond Carver's 1977 short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" (which also provided material for one of the chapters in Robert Altman's Short Cuts). This screen adaptation by Beatrix Christian adds some specifically Australian concerns to Carver's sketchy tale, which is essentially interested in the differences between men and women. Even the title, Jindabyne, refers to an Australian town that was created fresh in the 1960s when the old community was intentionally flooded and rebuilt nearby during engineering efforts to dam up the Snowy River. In the waters near the present-day Jindabyne, an entire lost city resides beneath the surface. In Lawrence's film, four men go on a weekend fishing trip during which they discover the corpse of a young woman floating in the water. They wait 48 hours, until the end of the weekend, before hiking back to "civilization" and informing the proper authorities. In turn, the police, the men's wives, and the community at large regard the men as callous and selfish louts, more concerned with their own well-being than that of the community's. Furthermore, the Australian aspect layers a racial overtone onto the proceeding by having the dead girl be aboriginal and arguing that the men might have behaved differently had the girl's skin been white. At the heart of the story is the couple, Stewart (Byrne) and Claire (Linney), whose marriage bears the brunt of the storm to come. Both Byrne, as the bedraggled working man who clearly sees this annual fishing trip as a high point of his year, and Linney, in particular, as his vaguely dissatisfied wife, are brilliant. Linney, as they say, could read the entire Australian phone book and keep a viewer rapt. Yet, as we gradually come to learn more about these characters, and follow Claire on her ill-thought-out quest to comfort the dead girl's family, Jindabyne gets offtrack, and even grows sluggish. Meanwhile, there's also still a killer on the loose, and Jindabyne loses its general sense of direction.