Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) has been looking forward to his annual fishing expedition with his mates ever since he returned from the last one. Jindabyne is a no-nothing town, work in his garage is wearing, and his marriage to Claire (Laura Linney) has seen better days. But out in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales he can breathe again. The air is fresh. The modern world may as well not exist; here it's all about four men and the fish they can cook over an open flame.
When Stewart finds the dead body of a young woman caught on a snag downstream, of course he's appalled. But she's dead. They're out of phone range. It's a perfect day. So the men decide to dip their rods first, and file a police report as soon as they get back to civilization.
Raymond Carver's story So Much Water So Close to Home runs to just a few pages. It provided one of the more memorable threads in Robert Altman's Short Cuts, but here the vignette has been transposed to Australia and stretched to 123 ponderous minutes. When the men return home the community is in uproar, with widespread disgust at their callous indifference. Their wives and girlfriends recoil, and struggle to make sense of it. To make matters worse, the dead girl was an Aborigine. Would the men have acted the same way if she had been white?
Claire reaches out to the bereaved family, but they don't want her guilt and Stewart continues to nurse his own sense of grievance.
Director Ray Lawrence made the excellent Lantana, a multi-strand drama woven around a murder mystery, and there's a similar attention to middle-age malaise and unhappiness here. Claire is pregnant but contemplating an abortion - an interfering mother in law doesn't help. Her friend Jude (Deborra-Lee Furness) is trying to get over the loss of her daughter, and raising her troubled granddaughter.
The characters are authentic and their dilemmas believable - you can't fault the actors - but the listless pacing and grim, portentous tone makes it awfully heavy going, and the introduction of a serial killer (Chris Heywood) stalking the roads for his next victim is over-egging the pudding. Lawrence's sombre, mostly naturalistic treatment veers towards crass manipulation on one or two occasions.
The film culminates in a lengthy healing ceremony, but I'm not convinced that the aboriginal issue doesn't obscure the subtlety at the heart of Carver's story, which implied that, for all their apparent insensitivity, the fishermen were in part compelled by the beauty all around them. That's a nuance that gets lost in the recriminatory mood and politically correct finger-pointing here.
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