Storytelling Found Lacking in Jindabyne
- Thursday, October 04, 2007
DVD Release Date: October 2, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: April 27, 2007
Rating: R (for strong language)
Run Time: 123 min.
Director: Ray Lawrence
Actors: Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, Sean Rees-Wemyss, Eva Lazzaro
A counselor friend once told me about a married couple in crisis. The husband, normally a responsible man, had gone on a winter hunting trip. Because he couldn’t access the mountain where he wanted to track the deer, he left his two boys—ages 4 and 6—in the car. He was gone four hours. The kids survived, but the man’s marriage was thrown into crisis.
It’s a similar scenario that Australian director Ray Lawrence (Lantana) creates in Jindabyne, an adaptation of author Raymond Carver’s short story, So Much Water So Close to Home. Gabriel Byrne plays Stewart, a gas station owner in New South Wales, Australia, who loves to fish with his buddies. Laura Linney plays Claire, his American wife, who works in a local drugstore. Claire and Stu have a lot of tension in their marriage, and it stems—at least in part—from the fact that Claire left Gabriel and their newborn son for 18 months, after little Tom (Sean Rees-Wemyss) was born. She’s back now, recovered from the postpartum depression but still edgy. As she and Stu struggle to get along, Tom has taken up some curious habits with the neighbor’s granddaughter (Eva Lazzaro). They kill small animals.
Stu leaves for a fishing trip with his friends. The four men hike up a distant mountain, which they claim is “no women allowed.” After arriving, Stu discovers the nude body of a young, beautiful Aboriginal woman floating in the river. He tethers the body to a tree, so that it will not float downstream. The men then think about leaving, but it’s late, they’re tired and she’s dead anyway, right? The next day, after Stu catches a huge fish, the men want to try their luck. So they decide to stay and fish instead. Three days later, they hike into town and alert the police, telling them the entire story.
When the information is leaked to the press, chaos erupts. The town is furious and begins to shun the four who, along with their wives, can’t seem to agree about what they should have done differently. Stu, in particular, continues to insist that he did nothing wrong, which appalls Claire and puts further strain on their marriage. She’s determined to make things right with the family of the young girl, however—no matter what her husband does.
Lawrence is not the first to bring this story to the big screen. In Robert Altman’s 1993 Short Cuts, set in California, we see an American version of the same story—albeit one that is better and significantly shorter. Here, Lawrence adds various subplots, circumstances and stray ends, none of which ever lead anywhere. The animal killing, for example, is never dealt with from a cinematic perspective. Likewise, a scene in which Claire thinks a man might be trying to kidnap Tom goes absolutely nowhere. He isn’t, and we never see him again. Various shots, which focus on a certain object or linger on another object, create the same problem.
The biggest issue is the film’s pacing, however. The woman’s body, for example, isn’t even discovered until more than 40 minutes into the film, which makes for a very tedious first half. The second half of the film doesn’t move rapidly either (although more so). And while there is resolution, it’s so minimal that you can’t help wondering what was left out. There is very little redemption, however. In the end, nothing changes much for any of these characters.
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