Jindabyne

Standard

Review by Jane Freebury

It would be interesting to see what director Ray Lawrence could do with a genre thriller, because he is a master of suspense. The prelude to murder on a quiet country road in the opening moments of Jindabyne spills over into subsequent scenes, infecting the innocence of everything that follows with a sense of dread.

So by the time a group of friends are making their way through the bush to their secret fishing spot in the upper reaches of the river valley, even a twig snapping underfoot sounds sinister. From the very start I was hooked, no question.

This is the third feature film director Ray Lawrence has made in twenty or so years, and it is another rich and rewarding experience. His 1985 movie Bliss, based on the Peter Carey novel, was a bold but uneven work, but Lantana was a triumph.

Here again, the drama involves a terrific collection of characters, each of them quite recognisable and beautifully observed—all three generations.

Claire Kane (Laura Linney) is dealing with an unwelcome pregnancy and issues that have been lingering in her marriage while husband Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) is feeling his age and has started to dye his hair. Their fey young son is easily led by a strange little playmate who is disturbed by her mother’s recent death. Hovering on the margins, Claire’s Irish mother-in-law is a disapproving presence who doesn’t help ease matters much.

Their fishing friends, the townsfolk and other characters are all vividly alive and the movie digs deep into their psychological makeup to stoke the drama that develops when Stewart and his fishing mates delay making a report they’ve found a dead body. The fat trout in the headwaters take priority.

If this sounds like a heavy scene, it is leavened by the wit and intelligence of Beatrix Christian’s screenplay, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story.

Jindabyne tells its story at many levels. There’s marital strife, some strained friendships, and the divide between Aboriginal and white Australia is explored, while it also acknowledges the ‘drowned town’ of old Jindabyne under the lake, and the sweeping Monaro landscape that has seen so much over time.

Ultimately it is about the need to take responsibility, something which cannot be shirked by putting up a sign to say ‘Gone fishing’.

4.5 stars