Well, Ive recently had the strangest experience. I saw a trailer in a theater lobby on a small screen with no sound. No, that isnt the strange part, although in and of itself it is actually a bit strange. The strange part is that the movie looked great. A terrific cast, a beautiful setting, all sorts of intrigue and drama. Even with no sound, I knew that this was a film I really wanted to see. I now know that I should never, ever, make decisions based on a sound-free tiny lobby trailer. Ever.
Jindabyne. Not only the title of the film, but also the name of the small Australian town in which Claire (Laura Linney) and Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) have made their home. Though neither is Australian by birth, they seem comfortable in this out-of-the-way locale, Stewart running a garage and Claire caring for their young son. But looks are deceiving, especially in movies.
Claire and Stewart are struggling with demons from the past for Claire and with the onset of middle-age for Stewart. Instead of turning to each other they become mute and introspective, taking actions that make little sense to those around them. When Stewart makes a grisly discovery during a much anticipated fishing trip, his actions and reactions create ever larger ripples in his community and within his already shaky marriage.
In a brief synopsis like that, Jindabyne actually looks like it might be pretty good. Too bad the film is longer than a trailer or a synopsis, for what we actually get is a long, tedious study in stupidity, stubbornness and rigidity. First problem Stewart and Claire rarely talk. When they do its cryptic and clipped. I suppose thats intended to add tension, but all it really does is leave them blank. Blank pages with a few little notes written upon them, never enough to make up a full character. When we learn of Claires past or try to understand Stewarts actions on the trip, we get nothing. A fragment here, a terse comment and a turned back there. No compassion, no communication, no depth, no feeling. The sparse dialogue we do get is badly written and sounds unnatural and forced. Its very hard to work up any empathy for these people or the touchy situations into which they either stumble or willingly venture.
Neither Linney nor Byrne is actively bad in Jindabyne. The problem is that we all know they can be so much better than this. They are hamstrung by their material: theres really only so much they can do with a look or a bit of posture or a pregnant pause or a badly written phrase or three. Without being allowed to speak to each other (or anyone else) convincingly, they just dont have the tools to make us like or care about them. The dearth of real, meaningful dialogue not only denies the story depth, but denies two fine actors a chance to explore what might have been some complicated and interesting characters.
Jindabyne does, in places, look lovely. When Stewart is on his fishing trip, the Australian wilderness is gorgeous. But lets face it, gorgeous wilderness is likely to look gorgeous. The rest of the film is bland and almost ugly. A reflection of the characters and their feelings? Maybe. But since we dont get to know them it just feels drab and depressing.
I dont really know what the film was trying for at the end. If it was trying for trite clichés masquerading as enigmatic complexity then I suppose it succeeds marvelously. The ending has the bad aftertaste of tacked on closure thats as unrealistic as it is jarringly ill-suited to the rest of the film.
As is probably quite evident, I did not like Jindabyne as well with the sound on as I did on that tiny, silent trailer. Its drab and boring with too little dialogue to give us any sort of real insight into the characters, their plights or their motivations. What dialogue there is not only doesnt offer respite from the tedium, it adds insult to injury by being unconvincing and unnatural. Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne are both fine actors, but their talents are wasted here. Dont waste your time or your money on Jindabyne.
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