JINDABYNE — ** 1/2 — Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne; rated R (profanity, brief nudity, violence, brief gore, vulgarity, brief drugs, slurs, brief sex)

The inspired casting of brooding actors Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney as a bickering couple, set against some spectacular Australian scenery, should be enough to make "Jindabyne" a winner.

Stress should.

This dramatic thriller is so slow, cold and aloof that it's almost off-putting. As a result, it's hard to care much about what happens to any of these characters.

"Jindabyne" refers to an Australian community that's been torn apart by the recent death of a young Aboriginal woman. She was sexually assaulted and murdered by a sinister truck driver (Chris Haywood), who dumped her body in a nearby river.

The unlucky person who finds the body is Stewart Kane (Byrne), a local mechanic. He and three buddies have gone to the wilderness to fish and get away from it all. So rather than report their findings, they leave the body in the river until they're done fishing.

Needless to say, Stewart's wife (Linney) is appalled at his actions ... or inactions. But that's nothing compared to the reactions he and his chums get from their fellow residents.

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It's clear that Australian director Ray Lawrence ("Lantana") is trying to turn this material into an Outback version of "Deliverance." And screenwriter Beatrix Christian has added some new elements to the original Raymond Carver story, "So Much Water So Close to Home" (which was also adapted in Robert Altman's 1993 "Short Cuts" anthology).

But Altman's version was shorter, more concise and more effective. While the racial divide elements to this version of the story are interesting, it's never as powerful as it should be.

Still, Linney is terrific, and the marital strife between her and Byrne rings true.

"Jindabyne" is rated R for strong sexual language (profanity and crude slang terms), brief female nudity, some vehicular violence and brief fisticuffs, brief gore, brief drug references (prescription medicines), slurs based on nationality and race, and some brief sexual contact. Running time: 124 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com