- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Local legend has it that under the lake near Jindabyne, the small Australian town that gives the movie its name, is a “drowned town” whose inhabitants were overwhelmed by the tides. However, it’s the people of the town above water who are drowning now, threatened by the tide of emotions unleashed by a single thoughtless act.

At the beginning of a fishing trip over a long weekend, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and his three friends discover a corpse floating along the lake. None of the four men knows what to do. The trip is a tradition, a trek made every year. It seems a shame to end it before it’s even begun; it would take hours to climb back down the mountain and alert the authorities. So they anchor the girl’s foot to a rock, assuaging their guilt by at least making sure the body won’t float away.

The four have a raucous time the next day, drinking whiskey and catching fish, but at night, a passing remark from one about the lake turns their mood sober. They decide to leave a day early, calling the cops on the way back.

The town reacts to their callousness with disbelief. “Men fish over dead body,” reads the newspaper headline. “We don’t step over bodies so we can enjoy our leisure activities,” admonishes a cop.

Even Stewart’s wife Claire (Laura Linney) can’t fathom what her husband has done. The incident rakes up buried resentments in their marriage. Claire ran off after their son was born; she came back after the postpartum depression lifted. Stewart still hasn’t forgiven her, and she keeps the discovery that she’s pregnant again a secret. This decision to keep quiet is even more fraught with complication than her husband’s.

With an Australian filmmaker directing an Irish actor from a script based on a story by an American master — Raymond Carver — “Jindabyne” is at once tied to the singular place in which it’s set and universal in its exploration of the links between loyalty and morality. Filmmaker Ray Lawrence (whose last film was 2001’s moving story of miscommunication, “Lantana”) has taken Mr. Carver’s short story and added layer upon layer of meaning onto it.

Mr. Byrne, by turns pleading and violent, is just right as a man who’s both a sphinx and an ordinary Joe who wants nothing more than an ordinary life. He’s a mechanic who once had bigger dreams, and is at the age where he starts dying his hair in an attempt to hold on to some of those past glories.

Miss Linney, one of our most talented actresses, is effortlessly attractive while showing us how unattractive it can be to stop at nothing to prove we’re right. She spends the film trying to make up for her husband’s wrong, while unsure she even wants to stay with someone capable of something she can’t even understand.

“Do you think we did the wrong thing by that girl?” Stewart asks his fishing buddy Carl. “She doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other,” he responds. The rest of the town, however, certainly does.

***

TITLE: “Jindabyne”

RATING: R (disturbing images, language and some nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Ray Lawrence. Screenplay by Beatrix Christian based on the short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” by Raymond Carver.

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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