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Jindabyne
cast: Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney, Stelios Yiakmis, and John Howard

director: Ray Lawrence

119 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Jindabyne is based on Raymond Carver's short story So Much Water, So Close To Home, with the setting transposed from America to Australia. It's been compared to Deliverance but a much more fitting frame of reference is director Ray Lawrence's last film, Lantana. In many ways, it is a re-working of the themes in Lantana and suffers slightly in comparison, not least because we now have some idea of what to expect. A woman's body is discovered but the focus remains on the effect of the fallout on individuals and their relationships rather than the cause of the death itself.

A spider's web of relationships amongst a fairly large cast of primary characters plays with the viewer's sympathies. As this is a rural, small town setting, there is not the chain of coincidence needed to pull them together that Lawrence had to utilise (with great conviction, it must be said) in the urban Lantana. The flaws, such as they are, concern motivation. It must be said, though, that every character that appears, excepting the victim, is flawed (even the children), and this is the film's greatest strength. You feel for the people, and grow to like them, despite the occasional desire to slap some sense into them. The one exception is the killer, who is revealed to us at the beginning. There is a hint that he may be mad, but he remains a cipher.

The film starts with the killing, which happens off-screen. On one of those dry, empty Australian roads, an electrician (Chris Haywood) with a van stops a young woman driver. Then we see him dumping the body in a remote river. That's the set-up. Jindabyne is a small town that was moved several decades ago to make way for a reservoir (water seems to be a signifier for death in this film) and four men from it are leaving for their annual fishing trip, something that has become a highly ritualised affair over the years. Three of them, Stewart Kane (Gabriel Bynre), Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis), and Carl (Tom Howard) are old friends who go back a long time. The fourth is youngster Billy 'The Kid' (Simon Stone) who works at Kane's garage and is going for the first time.

Billy is one of life's innocents and looks to the others for guidance, even though they subject him to mild contempt much of the time. The four arrive in the hills and hike out to their camp late on the Friday night. Naturally they arrive at the spot where the body is. After discussing the best thing to do, they tether the body in the river and turn in for the night. The next morning they decide to keep on fishing, and only report their find when they return to their car on the Sunday evening. Naturally, the police are furious at the time lag. So is everyone else. The viewer is also livid but in this case because of the abuse of his or her suspension of disbelief. One man might have continued with his holiday, possibly two, but four? It's one of the few places where the film stumbles.

All four men are in relationships and each of their partners reacts differently to the event. Stewart and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) are the pivotal couple. Claire is the one who feels guilt and contrition. It also becomes apparent that she has a history of mental breakdowns, and she threatens to come apart as the film progresses. The other families also start to show internal stresses, and naturally the relationships between the men starts to move into different alignments.

There is one other major point. The murder victim was an aboriginal woman. This results in friction between the aboriginal community and the white community. There is a hint of racism in the psychological makeup of Carl's wife, but the men themselves never mention her race when they discover the body. However, later on one can't help wondering if this was a factor that affected their decision. The town is so caught up in the furore over the four fishermen that people seem to forget that a murder was committed, but Lawrence never lets the viewer forget as the murder drifts in and out of view. It's not a serial killer film, but it does like to play with the conventions on occasion.

It is a very rewarding film, once the hiccups are subdued. The acting is uniformly wonderful throughout, and the photography is frequently breathtaking. Lawrence is a director who isn't afraid to use space and silence correctly, which allows the film to breath, and it also ends on one of the best edits in cinematic history. There is much to commend. The biggest worry is that a director as talented as Lawrence isn't starting to fall into a rut.
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