A grizzly old man (Chris Haywood) preys on a lone female motorist beside an outback road. On a weekend fishing trip, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), Carl (John Howard), Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis) and Billy (Simon Stone) discover the corpse of the young Aboriginal woman who was driving the car, now floating in the river. Too far from town to go back and report it, they continue fishing another day, but when they go home all hell breaks loose over their decision not to return immediately. Stewart's wife Claire (Laura Linney) is especially distraught and the incident brings their marriage to the brink, while the rest of the community is conflicted and confused. Claire tries to make amends for her husband and attempts to bridge the now yawning gap between the young woman's extended family and the rest of the community. And the predator is lying in wait again.
Review by Louise Keller:
The present and the past. Life and death. These are the themes of Ray Lawrence's Jindabyne, a visually evocative drama whose cinematic qualities are more satisfying than its emotional ones. There are many excellent things about the film, especially the mood it creates and the rich performances that explore intimate emotional issues. It doesn't matter that there are more questions than answers, but the film frustrates by the oomphy climax that never arrives.
The film looks great with its vast arid landscape that stretches forever, surrounding the tucked away rural township of Jindabyne. There are long dusty roads that wind their way into unknown territory and hidden away is a little corner of heaven where the four men escape their lives and fish. The water is clear and its ripples flicker a mosaic of dancing light on the rock face. The men are relaxed, comfortable and in control - even the fish are jumping. When Stewart makes his gruesome discovery of the almost naked body of the aboriginal girl, life suddenly turns upside down. Denial results in a split second decision as the men try to prolong their escape from reality. Guilt follows and the ensuing recriminations that impact on the relationships between each other and with their wives and children.
Strong performances by Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney as a couple whose relationship has been damaged by events and circumstances. The intimate moments when conflict becomes apparent, especially in the presence of visiting mother-in-law are so real, we almost feel as though we are intruding. Good to see Debora-Lee Furness on the screen again - the line her character says 'People die in the wrong order' puts key notions into context.
The wailing of Paul Kelly's distinctive vocalisation-driven music echoes the ever-constant presence of the Aboriginal spirits of the dead. All the scenes are short. It's as though we are given a taste of all the aspects of life in Jindabyne - physical, emotional and spiritual - but only a whiff of a taste.
Unlike the emotionally powerful Lantana, Jindabyne lacks a rich emotional curve. We are enticed by the mood and the stunning vistas, but we are never satisfied. And because Lawrence builds up the mood so leisurely, the film feels long with its tension imploding instead of dispersing. The resolutions keep us at arms lengths and the ending is decidedly off-putting.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Jindabyne begins and ends as if it were a thriller; one of those that are set in remote locations like the outback of Australia, where a lone crazy preys on passing targets, usually single women. But this Raymond Carver-written short story (transferred from the US to near-outback NSW) is more concerned with the ramifications of what happens to the four men who find the corpse of a young Aboriginal woman in the river on their fishing trip - and carry on with another day's fishing. Their decision to leave the body floating (tethered to a tree) rebounds on them in deeper and more profound ways than they could have imagined.
The incident becomes a black hole that swallows up relationships, rips off the scabs of old wounds and sets the black community against the whites. The internal ebb and flow of the characters' feelings and thoughts are the stuff of prose, and it doesn't translate easily to film; the written word can suggest subtleties more vaguely yet accurately than images.
Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney are superb as the couple whose relationship is already strained to cracking point, and their two little children are beautifully directed. Their performances keep us engaged but Deborra Lee Furness is also engaging as the wife of their friend (John Howard), while Chris Haywood has a deliciously black cameo to bookend the film.
Technically excellent in every department, the film tells the story with great verve and at a well judged pace, but the strong emotional content seems to stay on the screen, without translating to the deeply moving experience we hanker for. It's as if making this a thriller isn't enough and the laboured socio-political theme introduced near the end kidnaps the film's original mood. The filmmakers use every tool available, though, including wordless vocals, a tad over-used, to add layers - which in the end become burdens.
Perhaps the most questionable change to Carverís story is to make the dead woman Aboriginal; this shifts the entire moral question into one of cultural sensitivity, which is not what the moral of the story is about.
The abrupt, final shot takes us back to the thriller aspect, in a chilling echo - with a split second black joke.
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RAY LAWRENCE INTERVIEW
CAST: Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney, Deborra-Lee Furness, John Howard, Simon Stone, Leah Purcell, Stelios Yiakmis, Alice Garner, Betty Lucas, Chris Haywood, Eva Lazzaro, Sean Rees-Wemyss, Tatea Reilly
PRODUCER: Catherine Jarman
DIRECTOR: Ray Lawrence
SCRIPT: Beatrix Christian (short story by Raymond Carver)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Williamson
EDITOR: Karl Sodersten
MUSIC: Paul Kelly, Dan Luscombe, Soteria Bell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Margot Wilson
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 20, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: November 30, 2006