Readers of Raymond Carver short stories and fans of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts will find the core of Jindabyne familiar: Buddies on a fishing holiday find the dead body of a woman in the river and finish their trip before contacting the police, to the particular outrage of one fisherman’s wife. In relocating Carver’s spare morality tale ”So Much Water So Close to Home” to director Ray Lawrence’s (Lantana) homeland of Australia, he and screenwriter Beatrix Christian have upped the moral stakes precariously by adding racism into the reckoning — the dead woman is aboriginal, the men white.
That’s a lot to take on, mixed in with issues of abortion, mental illness, religious faith, and communal psychology. (There’s also the creepy horror-flick presence of a Scary Psycho in a Truck Who Kills Women Driving Alone.) And Jindabyne — named for the lakeside town in which the troubles spill — can’t contain all that the filmmakers want to throw in. Best to keep glued to the taut performance by Laura Linney as Claire, wife of one of the fishermen (Gabriel Byrne) and a woman moved to dramatic acts of atonement.