Raymond Carver's short story 'So Much Water So Close to Home' has already made a cinematic appearance as one facet of Robert Altman's 1993 film 'Short Cuts'. This Ray Lawrence-directed adaptation transfers the story from America to New South Wales so that 'Jindabyne's examination of a fractured family also holds up a mirror to contemporary Australian culture. Beset with racism and misogyny, it's not a pretty picture.
Jindabyne is a real town in New South Wales, built after its original site was submerged when a lake was created by the damming of the river. In the film, school kids tell tall tales of what's under the smooth waters of the lake while Lawrence looks at the emotional dramas that lie beneath the surface of this community.
Four men - Irish immigrant garage owner Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and his buddies, Carl (Howard), Billy (Stone) and Rocco (Yiakmis) - making their annual fishing trip to a secluded spot in the Snowy Mountains, discover the body of a murdered girl in the river. Although initially shocked, they decide not to disturb their weekend, and rather than hiking back to tell the police immediately, continue to enjoying themselves. Stewart tethers the girl to a tree so that she won't drift downstream and they carry on fishing. This misjudgement is to have long-reaching consequences for the men, and their families.
When they return home, it is to a media storm - and to wives and girlfriends who simply can't understand why they didn't return immediately to report what they had found. Stewart's marriage to Claire (Linney), already troubled, is further strained by her efforts to make restitution to the girl's family. There are several oblique references to the fact that Claire left him after their son Tom (Rees-Wemyss), was born, apparently suffering from severe post-natal depression. The situation is compounded by Stewart's interfering mother (Lucas) and the fact that Claire, terrified of her depression reoccurring, is seeking to terminate a secret pregnancy.
Their fractious relations, and the vast gap in understanding between the genders, is also echoed in the other couples' relationships. With no one to pin the crime on - although the audience knows who the perpetrator is from the outset - blame and guilt comes to rest largely on the shoulders of the four men. The fact that the victim was Aboriginal adds another level of tension to the mix.
Laura Linney, with all Claire's vulnerable stubbornness, gives a standout performance in this thoughtful examination of community morality. Praise also has to go to Deborra-Lee Furness, as the matriarchal Jude, a woman trying to bring up her troubled grandchild in difficult times, as well as two memorable children - Eva Lazzaro playing Jude's granddaughter Caylin-Calandria and Sean Rees-Wemyss as Claire's son, Tom. Although Byrne's Stewart has accent issues, his character's way of dealing with the situation and eventual efforts to put it right are involving.
Fine cinematography by David Williamson gives this film a solid, although not altogether comfortable, sense of place. A circular structure - the film ends where it begins - too many subplots and an overly measured pace may take from Ray Lawrence's vision but 'Jindabyne' is still an intelligent and compelling film.