Ghosts haunt nearly every scene of Australian director Ray Lawrence's Jindabyne. I suppose that it's to be expected from a film with a fair amount of death (death addressed directly and death merely alluded to), a lot of talk of spirits and celestial rest, and even the naked corpse of a young woman floating face down in a river. But more than that, Jindabyne's languid cracks and corners are haunted by the vague apparitions of a past both ghostly and unexplained—loose ends that lay claim to nearly as much real estate as the narrative itself.
But before we get to all that, let's go back to that naked corpse for a moment: Based on a Raymond Carver short story (brought to celluloid once before as part of Robert Altman's sprawling Short Cuts), Jindabyne supplants Carver's Pacific Northwest with the notably drier landscape of New South Wales, Australia for a surprisingly quiet film concerning—though somewhat indirectly—the violent rape and murder of an aboriginal girl. Upon discovering the girl's body in a remote riverbed, a quartet of friends on a fishing trip passes through the initial shock quickly enough to bind the corpse with fishing line (to keep her from floating away) and continue their leisurely weekend. Starring the incomparable Laura Linney and that dead-eyed Irishman Gabriel Byrne, the film centers on the conflicted emotional response arising from the fishermen's callousness, and the subsequent implosion of a small town that briefly follows.
Lawrence and screenwriter Beatrix Christian are smart to tread lightly on race relations, instead focusing on the emotional vagaries that consume Linney's frantic Claire, the wife of one of the fishermen (Byrne), as she traverses the unimaginable conflicts. More interesting, though, is the story's artful untidiness—a moody discomfort shaped by the narrative's oblique red herrings and mysterious loose ends. The film's meticulous vacancies become as much the central focus as the dead body in the river—as much said as is left unsaid, and each holds equal gravity. With so many questions, the product can feel at times a bit overstuffed—but the slow tension their mystery builds more than justify Jindabyne's shortfalls.