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Long, talky, slow and likely devoid of a single stunt, Jindabyne is the anti-summer movie of this summer. But the forehead-slapper of an ending, albeit two hours in, is worth the price of admission alone.


In the Australian town of Jindabyne, mystery flows like the river and the river is about to overflow. Racecar driver-turned-mechanic Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) goes on his annual fishing trip with three buddies (John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis and Simon Stone), leaving his ill wife, Claire (Laura Linney), at home with their son. While on the trip, Stewart and his friends discover a young Aboriginal woman's dead body floating in the water, but lest the trout swim away they decide to wait till morning to alert the authorities. The four friends wind up paying for that non-decision in ways they hadn't previously foreseen. Upon returning home, they're greeted by what they think is undue public outrage, but none is heavier than the punishment levied onto Stewart by an already skeptical Claire. She was the last of the wives to learn of Stewart's particularly unforgivable actions that day, and she joins the rest of the community in not being able to look him in the eye. She demands he act like a man and show his face at the victim's traditional Aboriginal burial ceremony as a last resort to some semblance of redemption. Meanwhile, the actual serial killer remains at large and makes no attempt to run or hide from anybody. But, as is the running theme of Jindabyne, who is the real bad guy?


Laura Linney, the lone American in the movie, headlines a cast of well-proven veterans. No contemporary actress not named Streep or Dench does "adult" quite like Linney, and Jindabyne is another dazzling notch on her belt. As always, Linney keeps things tense the whole way through, even during the first half in which her character is fairly content; however, she makes it clear that everything's not OK despite seeming superficially so. But more than anything, Linney's Claire marks a welcome, if much more dramatic, return to her You Can Count on Me roots. Byrne, who appeared alongside Linney in 2004's P.S., turns in perhaps his darkest emotional performance to date. His Stewart turns into a pathetic shadow of a man towards the end with one shot at potential redemption, and Byrne—an odd casting choice because he's an Irishman playing an Aussie—really makes it stick. The rest of the largely Australian cast won't be recognized by American viewers, but they're quite frequently employed in their native film industry and for good reason. Deborra-Lee Furness, aka Mrs. Hugh Jackman, especially stands out as one of the frantic, newly ostracized wives.


Jindabyne is director Ray Lawrence's third film; his first was in 1985. For that reason, it's fair to say he's Australia's Terrence Malick. Every second of film for Lawrence, like Malick, is a labor of love. It shows, but with Jindabyne it makes for a less enthralling—and less organic—viewing than his previous film, 2001's superb Lantana. Jindabyne is a pleasure to look at and listen to, and the story—based on a short by Short Cuts author Raymond Carver—probably has a lot more to offer when read, but Lawrence's slooooow-burn technique, with fade-outs in almost every spot that needs a cut, is occasionally tough to sit (awake) through. Towards the end, however, it picks up speed and profundity and ultimately leaves your head spinning for mostly the right reasons. In other words, it winds up a genuine Ray Lawrence experience, which is a good thing. That said, the movie is definitely not for everyone, especially in the days of sequel season, er, summer.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.