I thought I had seen this movie before, but it was part of the movie 'Short Cuts' I remembered (based on the same short story by Raymond Carver).
A simple morality tale; of not doing what society will have you believe to be the "right thing" and the conseqences of not only your actions, but the mores society places on you.
The film attempts to instill a sense of displacement; all of the charactors are trying to make the best of things, even though they are clinging to symbolic gestures and icons of attachment to time, place, and the people around them. In truth, an almost existential tone pervades this effort, and as such, it could have held its ground; but the spiritual overtones are devisive and distracting.
The impetus of the film comes from four fishing buddies who discover a recently dead body while on their much anticipated yearly fishing trip. Rather than make the day hike out of the canyon to report the body, they spend the weekend as they normally would, and only report the incident after leaving at their normal time.
The truth eventually comes out and the community and family are outraged by their callous insensitivity; ignoring that the girl was already dead so it would make no difference to her (and in such a remote location it wasn't as if the delay would have made any difference in potentially catching the killer - and at this point no-one has any idea of how she died).
The fisherman believe they've done enough by simply tying her to a tree limb so her body wouldn't float downstream and over a waterfall, and it is ironic that this bow to "humanity" leads to the discovery of their "insensitivity" and sets off a chain reaction of hate.
Of course the real issue is that the dead girl was an Aboriginie, so their neglect appears to be racial (when it was really just a snap reaction to having to waste their only time off in order to report their findings).
Laura Linney, as one of the wives of the fisherman, then goes on a Quixonic quest to appease her own sense of self as much as appeasing the Aboriginal population. This takes her to the Aboriginal "funeral", a sequence that goes on way too long and is ackward - perhaps by intention.
The undercurrent to all this surface action is the sense of disenfrancisement - even the city itself, Jindabyne, was moved from its original location because it was in the way of a new reservoir. There are plenty of scenes of the children facing the dangers of the unknown swimming and playing in and around the reservoir, many of which seem to interupt the narrative, and serving the sole purpose of reminding the viewer that we're all just fish out of water.
I admire the vision, but felt that the execution could have been tighter.
It really is a shame, because there is so much to enjoy about what we get here. Linney is stunning as always, and Byrne is frigid and remarkable; all the other performances are equally resonant. The movie itself is eerie and almost moribund; its atmosphere is great. A subtle, haunting score and the plains of Australia create a very strong impression, whether you want them to or not.
It's not that this is a bad movie - quite the contrary - but it's a brazen waste of potential. With a more judicious editor and a pared-down script, this could be Oscar-winning fare. In its current form, it makes for a good solid dramatic mystery and little else.
[font=Century Gothic]The major problem with "Jindabyne" is not with the leisurely pacing(which does allow time to capture the beautiful Australian countryside wonderfully). It is in how the movie is constructed, giving too much time to establish how much of an outsider Claire is.(Personally, I don't blame her for being alarmed that her son brought a knife to school. And I find all children to be a little creepy but that little girl takes the cake.) More time should have been spent at the fishing party, just enough to draw out the horror while revealing less about Susan's killer which should have been left more of a mystery. And the ending is particularly weak.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]What would have been interesting is if one half of the movie had been spent with the Kanes, and the other half with the Coopers, which would have provided more of a dialogue on racism instead of the usual language of denunciation that we are already so used to hearing. What the movie is concerned with is how the everyday lies we tell separate us from not only our loved ones but also men from women and people of different skin color into different camps. [/font]
Jindabyne has a story which seems more important for context than narrative. It shows how residents of Jindabyne react as the community faces a mysterious death and precisely what that means for a remote Australian town. Yet since there is no real-life historical context of the story, it would need to balance context with characters to work to maximum effect. Although there is the potential to explore characters, the film just skims the surface of everything and oscillates between a large quantity of slow-moving sequences where little happens aside from what is left to the implications and the occasional point in time where the characters actually have something to do or say. Viewers who are not completely hypnotized by the film's style or caught up in its atmospheric storytelling will realize that there is a lot of waiting around to do in the experience of watching Jindabyne, and even though I can appreciate the former I still feel that the latter is ultimately of far more prominence throughout the film. It is a feature which really stretches on, and by the end of 123 minute running time I had a feeling that it had stretched on for quite a bit longer even though in actuality there was little that had happened. I felt unfulfilled by the lack of narrative in Jindabyne and that there was honestly not enough Aussie charm for its reliance on context to actually do anything of major benefit to the production.
However, that's not to say that audiences do not get an interesting ride out of the feature. Viewers are given a sense that they are actually in Jindabyne because the land depicted mirrors the atmospheric experience of the film. With an extensive use of silence in lieu of a musical score most of the time, viewers are given a feeling of empty isolation from the rest of the world. Though the story itself may not be top notch, the overall way that director Ray Lawrence handles the atmosphere and visual style of the film effectively boosts its credibility and ensures that it succeeds as a sporadically stirring piece at the least. The visual style of Jindabyne is excellent. Though the Australian scenery has a natural beauty to it, it is captured with a very bleak colour scheme. The land is seemingly baron and crawling with death, be it the excess of growth or the dry sanctions. Yet at the same time the growth itself and the running water give it a feeling of life. Since the subject matter of the film touches upon the concept of life and death, it is really able to find a solace of support within the context of its style. This might prove enough for some viewers, and though it wasn't enough for me I can certainly admire what it achieved.
The cinematography and its convergence with the land it captures ultimately gives Jindabyne a western feeling, and considering the blunt nihilism in the story it can be argued that the film is a postmodern western without much of the typical iconography of the genre. As a fan of westerns, I definitely got a kick out of the stylish, atmospheric experience of Jindabyne and found that it helped to justify the slow-moving nature of the story in certain parts, even though it was ultimately rudimentary as a whole.
And the most human aspect of Jindabyne is the presence of a talented cast of international actors.
Gabriel Byrne gives his finest leading performance in years. The actor who has passed the years of his Hollywood glory reaches out to an Aussie crowd in Jindabyne and it pays off. For me it is unsurprising as I have long respected his talents as an actor, and it is also all the more welcome that I got to witness them in proper form once again. In Jindabyne, the man is left with material which demands his finest talents if it is to elevate the film above it less-than-stellar elements overall, and he has no problem ensuring that he delivers all he can. As an Irishman in an Australian setting, Gabriel Byrne conveys both a feeling that he blends in with the life around him and also a sense that he is indifferent to it, creating an effective balance to match the story. Gabriel Byrne has a certain sense of unpredictability about him, and he has some moments where his dramatic flair really takes off and steals the attention of viewers with tenacious brilliance. He is very clearly the standout of the cast, and his greatest scenes are the most memorable aspects of Jindabyne outside of its more style-focused aspects.
Laura Linney is also a rich presence. What she contributes to Jindabyne is a very powerful tenacity over her character as Claire is a vulnerable mother haunted by her past. The entire time throughout the film you can see Laura Linney is lost in the mind of the character because she cannot escape thoughts that are haunting her, and that conveys a sense of weakness at times. And when she has to step up and bring raw dramatic tension to the role, the result is made all the more effective by the contrast as the results prove to be very strong moments of dramatic flair. Laura Linney makes a strong case in Jindabyne, and her chemistry with Gabriel Byrne is terrific.
Deborra-Lee Furness remains a consistently engaging presence whenever she is on screen due to her ability to let the script flow into her mind and out of her mouth organically. John Howard is also welcome as he is in any Australian film.
So Jindabyne is a very atmospheric experience which uses its on-location Australian setting as the front for a very stylish feature which is rich in atmosphere and strong peformances, but beneath Ray Lawrence's ability to draw viewers in is a failure to keep them engaged due to a story which is short on development or plot dynamics in general.