Routine Linney Puzzler Drowns in Dead Plot and Thriller Shots

    If there’s one thing Laura Linney can do well (besides act, of course) it’s select disconcerting art-house scripts that have consistently perplexing final notes. “”Jindabyne”” – an Australian adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “”So Much Water So Close to Home”” – is certainly consistent with the rest of Linney’s resolute resume, which includes such indie downers as “”The Life of David Gale,”” “”Kinsey”” and “”The Squid and the Whale.”” Though Linney does know how to insert depth into feel-good hits like “”Love Actually”” and “”Man of the Year,”” she’s born to play more haphazardous roles – anti-capital punishment avengers with leukemia, divorced writers who screw up their kids in a desperate attempt to avoid doing so – and, in this case, a mother with a chaotic history of postpartum depression whose husband makes a scandalous decision.

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
    Laura Linney stars in “”Jindabyne,”” the low-action indie spooker about small-town gossip in the wake of scandal.

    Like in most small towns, the tight-knit Australian community of Jindabyne sees more controversy in the choice made by four grown men – to see their boys-only fishing trip to the end rather than reporting the naked aboriginal woman floating face-down in the river nearby – than the murder itself, thus forcing the fishermen over an exhausting series of social hurdles. These include a racial conflict in which a heated bunch of rancorous aborigines set out to retaliate against the whities; a whirlwind of judgmental rumor-mill death stares from neighboring citizens (and, worse yet, their wives); and a drawn-out inner turmoil, eloquently encapsulated by a police detective: “”We don’t step over bodies in order to enjoy our leisure activities!”” As silly as the whole setup may be, it does seem believably strange that Linney’s hubby Stewart Kane (Gabriel Byrne) and his friends hold their back-to-nature bonding tradition so close that they choose to ignore the increasingly bloated body floating alongside their catch of the day – and their lives thereafter certainly bear the consequence.

    It is more than likely that, without Linney’s compellingly shamefaced mother/wife to carry the film, “”Jindabyne”” wouldn’t have the buoyancy to keep from sinking down into the thick silt of its slow-moving, thoughtfully independent genre predecessors. Especially considering the rudimentary cinematographic techniques that Aussie director Ray Lawrence has easily mastered – a recurring “”Jaws”” shot from the underbelly of a flailing swimmer and the stalker/sniper-peeking-through-the-trees shot – maintain a needlessly ominous tenor for a movie in which nothing really happens. It instead boasts two hours of eerie aboriginal chants paired with slack visions of classic Australian scenery, inconsequentially undercut by innocuous humor. Any hope of salvaging the frayed ends at large in each subplot is shot down in flames when the last 30 seconds of the film – and it couldn’t be avoided, since Linney apparently can’t resist a bizarre finale – throw us for such a loop that we leave in a furrowed daze, painstakingly attempting to extract some kind of impossible symbolism.

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