VIDEO: Watch the trailer for Jindabyne.
If you’ve seen Short Cuts, Robert Altman’s masterful adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short stories, you’ll recall the fishing-trip segment in which Huey Lewis pisses into a stream. He’s on a male-bonding excursion with Buck Henry and Fred Willard, and they find the body of a young woman who, it’s clear, has been murdered. They decide to leave her and keep on fishing, and their slack response carries profound repercussions downstream.
In Jindabyne, Australian director Ray Lawrence (Lantana) retools the story that segment is based on, “So Much Water So Close to Home.” Set in the Outback, his film introduces a serial killer and issues of race and privilege. The title, from the Aborigine word for valley, refers to a town that got flooded to make way for a resort town that never came. Those who inhabit Jindabyne are a tight lot, sedate and working-class, with signs of trouble rippling on the surface. Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), a former race-car driver who relocated to the town and now struggles as a garage owner, joins three friends on their annual fishing trip in the deep brush. When they find a woman’s body, few words are exchanged; the body is tethered to a branch in the stream (so not to get crushed in the rapids or rot ashore in the sun), and they don’t report its discovery for two days.
Back home, a crush of media subjects Stewart and crew to moral scrutiny, and the woman’s Aborigine identity fans racial tensions. Stewart’s wife, Claire (Laura Linney), decides she has to atone for his transgression by reaching out to the woman’s kin, but they want nothing to do with her. Further threads of dysfunction unravel, entangling all in more circumstance and folly, and allowing Lawrence to spin Carver’s all-too-human tragedy into a quirky dark comedy that is all-too-Altmanesque.