I fully expected the anticipation that built up for five long years to negatively affect my perceptions of the new film by Ray Lawrence; the chances of the director equaling the perfectly calibrated critical success of his last film, Lantana, seemed slim. But if Jindabyne doesn’t quite coalesce like its taut predecessor, it comes close enough; its unevenness is made up for by its ambitious wanderings through trickier, thought-provoking terrain, and, although it goes slack occasionally, clocking in at just over two hours, the film resonates with rhythmic momentum.
Expanding upon Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” (the same upon which one of the strands in Robert Altman’s Carver compendium Short Cuts is based) but relocated to the movie’s titular Ozzie town, Jindabyne opens with expertly rendered atmosphere. Lawrence cross-cuts between a beautiful Aborigine girl (Tatea Reilly) blithely singing as she drives along an open road, and a man (Chris Haywood) watching her through binoculars, backed up by the threatening thrum of his truck’s waiting engine (paired with Grindhouse, it would seem that vehicular terrorizing is the serial killer’s preferred shtick of the moment). Like Lantana, this latest is positioned as a thriller (see its by-the-numbers trailer), but Jindabyne similarly eschews typical potboiler tendencies involving plot twists and physical action and focuses instead on emotional trajectories. The mysteries lie in the intricacies of interaction amongst, in this case, a quartet of close couples, and Lawrence’s concentration on conjuring a quieter realism results in an unexpectedly stimulating exploration.