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Storytelling Found Lacking in Jindabyne

  • Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2007 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Storytelling Found Lacking in <i>Jindabyne</i>

DVD Release Date:  October 2, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  April 27, 2007
Rating:  R (for strong language)
Genre:  Drama
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 HomeGabriel 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.

Linney is excellent—by far the best actor in this movie.  Byrne does a decent job, but has little nuance.  He spends most of the film looking very, very depressed.  Other actors are hit or miss, with some obvious overacting.

It seems, from the DVD featurette, that the filmmakers were trying to inject the film with deep spiritual meaning.  Judging from the ongoing references to Native spirituality, they clearly wanted to convey Aboriginal beliefs in spirits and the supernatural.  Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten carried away with this motif, especially as it pertains to the film’s imagery.  Of course, the cinematography in this film is stunning—one of the highlights.  But its portent undertones simply do not work.  They detract from the storytelling.

As a result, you can’t help feeling depressed after watching this film.  The same way you feel while watching it, come to think of it.

DVD EXTRAS:

  • “The Process” featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Trailers

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters smoke and drink (sometimes excessively) throughout.  In one scene, a young child brings drugs (pills) to school but is reprimanded.
  • Language/Profanity:  Strong, including numerous instances of the f- word.
  • Occult:  Various references to and warnings about “the spirits” and the way that they can harm or help a person; Native American imagery, rites and culture, including an extended funeral scene with numerous Native American rituals.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Several scenes with female nudity, including prolonged shots of upper female nudity.  One scene where husband caresses wife in a sexual manner.
  • Violence:  Man lays in wait for woman in several scenes then flags her down.  Later, woman is found dead.  This scenario is repeated twice in the film.  Child brings knife to school.  Children kill several small animals (off-screen) without conscience.  Man finds dead body, which is bloodied and seen in several scenes.  Man ties dead body to a tree by the ankle.  Later, body is seen in morgue, where coroner reveals that the strong cut the leg “to the bone.”  Men throw rocks through windows, shout and insult others.