2006, Movie, R, 123 mins


A perfect companion piece to his beautifully acted 2001 ensemble film LANTANA, Australian director Ray Lawrence's adaptation of the acclaimed Raymond Carver short story "So Much Water, So Close to Home" is another richly textured, multicharacter examination of action, inaction and consequence.

Shifting the locale from Carver's Pacific Northwest to New South Wales, the action unfolds in Jindabyne, a town in southeastern Australia that was completely rebuilt decades earlier after the original village — along with thousands of years of indigenous history — was flooded by the rising waters of the Snowy River after the construction of a new dam. A killer (Chris Haywood) is stalking the lonely highways of the region's dry, dusty plains, and he's dumped the nude body of his latest victim, an Aboriginal woman named Susan (Tatea Reilly), in the river close by the annual getaway fishing spot of four friends: Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), an Irish-born race-car driver turned mechanic whose second marriage to Claire (Laura Linney) is strained by the still-tender memory of the postpartum depression that caused Claire to temporarily abandon her family after their son (Sean Rees-Wemyss) was born; Carl (John Howard), a grandfather who's helping to raise his 7-year-old granddaughter (Eva Lazzaro) after the death of his daughter, a tragedy Carl's bitter and heartbroken wife, Jude (Deborra-lee Furness), takes out on the child; Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis), the former fiance of Carl and Jude's daughter who, to the chagrin of Jude, is now dating local schoolteacher Carmel (Leah Purcell); and Billy (Simon Stone), Stewart's goofy, good-natured garage assistant who's a recent addition to the group. The weekend gets off to a great start, but not long after setting up camp, Stewart discovers Susan's body floating facedown in the river. As the sun sets, the four friends decide to tether the body to a tree with fishing line and leave it in the water for the time being. When they wake up the following morning, they make an even worse decision: Rather than immediately reporting what they found, they spend the day fishing and don't notify the police until the next day. It's a moral lapse that will have serious consequences for all four men and their families, particularly Claire, whose attempts to right the wrong her husband committed is met with scorn by both the white and the indigenous people of Jindabyne.

"So Much Water, So Close to Home" was previously adapted by Robert Altman as part of SHORT CUTS, his sprawling tapestry of L.A. life. But whereas Altman used the story as just one of several plotlines, Lawrence delves deep into the moral dilemma at the heart of Carver's deceptively simple tale. By deliberately making the young woman in the river Aboriginal, the film also opens up yet another dimension in the reaction to the men's inaction: Would they have acted any differently had the murder victim been white? Lawrence shows the ways in which such deep and often barely concealed gulfs between seemingly peacefully cohabitating peoples can suddenly reveal themselves during moments of public crisis, moments like devastating hurricanes or excessive police shootings. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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