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Friday, May 18, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Finding body becomes talk of the town in "Jindabyne"

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Jindabyne," with Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, Deborra-Lee Furness, John Howard, Leah Purcell, Stelios Yiakmis. Directed by Ray Lawrence, from a screenplay by Beatrix Christian, based on the short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" by Raymond Carver.

123 minutes. Rated R for disturbing images, language and some nudity.

Raymond Carver's lean, wrenching short story "So Much Water So Close to Home," the basis of the film "Jindabyne," is about the blow that breaks a fragile marriage, and its reverberations.

Its first-person narrator, Claire, learns that her husband, Stuart, and his friends, on their annual fishing trip, found the dead body of a young woman floating in the water near their remote camp. Having hiked several miles to get there, they decided to leave the body and continue with their plans, notifying the sheriff of her presence two days later when they returned.

Stuart feels that they did nothing wrong, even as the media picks up on the story and emphasizes the men's heartlessness; his wife is devastated and can think of nothing else. "She was dead," Claire says. "But don't you see? She needed help."

If this story sounds familiar, it's because you've seen it on screen before: Robert Altman used it as one of the multiple threads of his 1993 Carver tour de force, "Short Cuts." But here, Australian director Ray Lawrence (who made the fine, intricate drama "Lantana") and screenwriter Beatrix Christian let the story stand alone, transporting its action to the small Australian town of Jindabyne. They've opened the story up a bit, adding new characters — a friend of Claire's (Deborra-Lee Furness) is coping with the loss of a daughter — and a racial twist. The dead girl is Aboriginal; would things have been different if she were white?

The result is an affecting character study, anchored by scraped-bare and often heartbreaking performances by Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne as Claire and Stewart (spelled differently than the book). Linney is always able to show us her characters thinking (she can convey with a furrowed brow what most actresses need paragraphs to explain), and here she sweeps us into Claire's anguish. Even before the discovery of the body (which happens about a third of the way into the film), she's troubled — worried about her young son, her chilly mother-in-law, her stale marriage. Byrne's Stewart, for his part, stares at his middle-age reflection in a mirror, wondering where the years have gone.

After the revelation (the movie divides nicely into Before and After), it's clear nothing will ever be the same. Claire desperately tries to reach out to the girl's family, explaining to her son, "When a bad thing happens, we all have to do a good thing." Stewart is chastised by cops ("We don't step over bodies to enjoy our leisure activities," one says icily) and, soon, by the town itself. The couple's communication dissolves, though a lyrical scene at the movie's end (quite different from the Carver story) gives us reason for hope.

Lawrence makes the vast, dry landscape of Jindabyne and its nearby mountains a character, as is the wind that blows through the desert and the water that gurgles gently as it cradles the young woman who we saw singing in the film's prologue, and who will never sing again. The director and writer add Australian flavor — its wild, mysterious terrain; its lilting voices — to Carver's eloquent etchings; it's a mixture that serves this haunting story well.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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