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On an annual fishing trip, in isolated high country, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), Carl (John Howard), Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis) and Billy (Simon Stone) find a girl’s body in the river. It's too late in the day for them to hike back to the road and report their tragic find. Next morning, instead of making the long trek back, they spend the day fishing. When the men finally return home to Jindabyne, and report finding the body, all hell breaks loose.
Their wives can't understand how they could have gone fishing with the dead girl right there in the water–she needed their help. The men are confused–the girl was already dead, there was nothing they could do for her. Stewart's wife Claire (Laura Linney) is the last to know. As details filter out, and Stewart resists talking about what has happened, she is unnerved. There is a callousness about all of this which disturbs her deeply. Stewart is not convinced that he has done anything wrong. Claire's faith in her relationship with her husband is shaken to the core.
As public opinion builds against the actions of the men, their certainty about themselves and the decision they made at the river is challenged. They cannot undo what they have done. Only Claire understands that something fundamental is not being addressed. She wants to understand and tries to make things right. In her determination Claire sets herself not only against her own family and friends but also those of the dead girl. Her marriage is taken to the brink and her peaceful life with Stewart and their young son hangs in the balance.