The Reeler

Reviews

April 27, 2007

Jindabyne

Less fun than a corpse in a lake, Jindabyne falls into finger-pointing vortex

The most fun you’ll have in going to see Ray Lawrence’s liberal adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” is in purchasing the ticket: Jindabyne! Jindabyne! Jindabyne! It’s not that this story of a corpse discovered and ignored on a fishing trip, and the ensuing repercussions for a marriage and an entire community, is a drag -- God knows I am always up for a cracking drag -- it’s that it’s a draaaaaaag. With no top notes, or bottom notes, or grace notes, or footnotes, the serious risks the self-serious, and the result is a movie like Jindabyne (Banzai!), which musters all the momentum of a reflecting pool despite a solid cast and fertile premise.

Robert Altman also saw the cinematic potential in Carver’s outline, but used it as just one component in his multi-faceted Short Cuts. Lawrence has moved the story to Australia, near a “tidy town” called Jindabyne that was submerged during the creation of a man-made lake. Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne, reviving the fizzling, complicated chemistry they uncovered in 2004’s P.S., play Claire and Stewart, a married couple with a pie-faced little boy and a bumpy history. Both seem to be living in exile (Claire from States and Stewart from Ireland) in Australia and in the midst of an uneasy truce in their house. Stewart and three of his buddies embark on a much-ballyhooed fishing trip in the mountains, leaving Claire to tend to her son, the weird neighbor girl, Stewart’s buttinsky mother and a bad case of the spontaneous vomits.

When Stewart comes upon the naked body of an Aboriginal girl (whose abduction and heinous disposal by a grizzled old man open the film) he is panicked and horrified, but as the men calm down they decide that waiting a day or two won’t make much difference. They tether her ankle to a tree; even the day’s ample catch seems to be treated with more dignity. Stewart’s the kind of man who reflexively crosses himself before each meal but can’t grasp the concept of sanctity and honor in death -- a concept even more central to the local Aboriginal population -- and Claire is the kind of repressed middle aged woman who feels the pain of everyone except the people living in her own house. Worried that she might be pregnant (it is revealed that after the birth of her son she cracked up and moved home for 18 months), Claire considers abortion when she learns of her husband’s actions on the lake, then sets out on a tormented correction course.

Lawrence weights these scenes of reckoning and recrimination with listless dialogue, similar direction -- despite a bounty of rich and arid atmosphere -- and somber musical fade outs for every scene. “What kind of a man does that?” is the question torturing Claire, and Stewart responds with bewilderment and then retaliation. The whole thing starts to feel endless, a finger-pointing vortex with a heavy-handed score. By the time the ubiquitous killer and Claire cross paths on their way to crashing the traditional smoke ceremony being held for the murder victim, you almost root for the film to take a turn, any turn, even into schlocky thriller territory. Alas, instead of putting up its dukes, Jindabyne (Karate chop! All right, I’m done) lifts its trembling hands for some free to be, whitey and me, spiritual healing.



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