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.
Stewart Kane, an Irishman living in the Australian town of Jindabyne, is on a fishing trip in isolated hill country with three other men when they discover the body of a murdered girl in the river. Rather than return to the town immediately, they continue fishing and report their gruesome find days later.
Gabriel Byrne: Stewart Kane
Jindabyne revolves around four men who embark on a weekend fishing-trip, more of an annual ritual where they separate themselves from their wives and lives, hiking deep into the mountains. Shortly after arriving Stewart (Byrne) finds the body of an Aboriginal girl, stripped naked and floating in the river. The four make a telling decision: rather than hike back to report their find they keep fishing; the girl's body is left in the river where the cold water will slow decomposition; they tether it to a tree to prevent it floating downstream and into rapids. That the four think little about the moral implications of their conscious choice is reflected in subsequent scenes where they fish happily, not discussing their find or speculating about what happened to the girl. On returning, the callousness of their delay in reporting their find divides their families and their communities. Most of the focus is on Stewart's relationship with his wife Claire as the incident opens up existing fractures in their relationship. In fact the whole affair makes you wonder if any of the characters involved was ever truly happy; they certainly wonder it themselves.
The nature of the story is intensely psychological, which necessitates both good writing and acting to carry off the whole affair. Pleasingly, Jindabyne has plenty of both.
Beatrix Christian had Carver's story to draw upon but it would have been incredibly difficult to give this an Australian context, with all its understatement and scorn for overt displays of emotion (perhaps why they imported Linney in to the mix). The addition of her and Byrne, two skilled international character actors, certainly added quality and a depth of sorts, they were supported by an ensemble cast that mixed Australian veterans (John Howard, 'Bud' Tingwell, Chris Haywood) with lesser-known yet talented actors with an appreciation of the material they had been gifted.
Ray Lawrence, the director, clearly did not set out to create a crime story but he certainly shows that crime can have some unexpected collateral damage. He also has contributed to the "Cinema of Unease", a phrase Sam Neill once used to describe New Zealand cinema, by setting a story or tale about personal and public guilt in such a glorious visual setting or breath taking landscape.
The problem with the film is that not one of the characters is written as anything but a stereotype. Not a single one of them has a need that the audience can understand - you're left to assume their motivation from the cliché they are drawn from. It's sheer bad writing - each main character has to have some sort of major drama going on, because their characters are so thin. That's melodrama, and the cast chew the Australian scenery like they haven't eaten in a week, and the full-on ethnic wailing on the soundtrack gets old very quickly.
The consequence of having so many threads of melodrama is that not one of them is resolved. The movie tries to cover up its lack of proper characterization by resorting to an unnecessary and unresolved serial killer plot, and a paper-thin small-town racism plot.
Nobody on the crew thought to mention that if you find a dead body in a creek, you might not feel like eating the fish you pull out of there. Bad writing and sloppy film-making.