But for all the potential for pretense, Lawrence will have none of it. A director with a keen eye for the telling details of relationships, Lawrence gets great work from his cast. Gabriel Byrne plays Stewart, an ex-race-car driver who now runs a garage, and whose marriage to Claire (Laura Linney) is on shaky ground even before the scandal that erupts when the men return from their trip. It is Stewart who discovered the body, unclothed, floating face down in the river, and who secured the corpse with a fishing wire so it wouldn't be carried downstream.
Jindabyne takes Carver's premise and expands on it to reveal not only a couple's imminent collapse, but a community's divisive response to the behavior of these men.
And because the young woman who is found dead is Aboriginal, a layer of racism, a cultural disconnect, is added to the mix. What if she had been white? Would Stewart have reacted with more urgency? Would his friends (John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis and Simon Stone) - all Anglo Aussies - have responded differently, done the right thing?
When news does get out about the discovery, and the fact that the buddies continued to fish for days after the body was found, the townsfolk are shocked, appalled. So is Claire, who can't believe her husband's callousness. She channels her shame and grief by trying, unsuccessfully, to console the dead girl's family.
Deliberately paced, with an eerie, country-ish score from the Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, Jindabyne is definitely a mystery. But it's not about who killed the woman - audiences know that practically from the outset.
Lawrence's compelling little film pursues a deeper question: why people make the choices that they do - and how they then live with those decisions, right or wrong, weak or strong.
Jindabyne *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Ray Lawrence, written by Beatrix Christian, based on a story by Raymond Carver, photography by David Willimson, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.
Running time: 2 hours, 3 mins.
Stewart.......................... Gabriel Byrne
Claire. . . Laura Linney
Jude............. . . Deborra-Lee Furness
Carl. . . John Howard
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, nudity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Five and Showcase at Ritz Center/NJ
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews. com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.