Ray Lawrence, Germany / Australia, 2001
Adapted by Andrew Bovell from his play Speaking in Tongues,
director Ray Lawrence's Lantana examines the lives of four couples in
and around Sydney, Australia, over the course of a few weeks. First we have
police detective Leon Zat (an effective Anthony LaPaglia) and his
long-suffering wife Sonja (marvelously handled by Kerry Armstrong). Sonja's
therapist, Valerie Somers (an appropriately emotive Barbara Hershey), is a
psychiatrist who's written a book dealing with her daughter's murder. Valerie's husband, John Knox (a bedrock-solid
Geoffrey Rush), is a detached academic. Jane O'May (nicely underplayed by
Rachael Blake) is estranged from her husband Pete (Glenn L. Robbins), a sad
sack who's desperate for reconciliation. And then there are Jane's next-door
neighbors, the D'Amato's: Paula (a spirited Daniela Farinacci) and Nik
(Vince Colosimo), a tight-knit, if cash-strapped, couple.
Lawrence's inter-cutting between socio-economic boundaries recalls Robert
Altman's 1993 masterpiece Short Cuts, but Lantana is far more
plot-driven and much less subtle in its execution. Themes of infidelity,
lies, the mysteries and vagaries of love all intertwine as the four couples
play out their personal wants and needs in the course of discovering the
truth about what's happened to Valerie after she mysteriously vanishes one
night. Valerie's disappearance touches off more than a missing person's
inquest, causing long-simmering tensions to boil over and devastating
secrets to come to light. While investigating the case, Leon uncovers
confidential taped conversations of Sonja's discussing the couple's rocky marriage
and her fear that Leon might be having an affair. John, Valerie's husband, seems
less than broken up about her absence and quickly becomes the prime
suspect. Meanwhile, Jane witnesses Nik arriving home late one night and
tossing what looks like a woman's high heeled shoe into the lantana bushes
across the street.
Plot convolutions are liberally piled one on top of the other, with
accusations ranging from vindictive gay lovers to whether or not the
unemployed, but model father, Nik is actually a cold-blooded killer.
Mystery aside, at its heart Lantana is about marital trust. Should
a husband tell his wife everything, regardless of how much it might hurt
her, or is it better to keep some things secret? Lawrence proves effective
at exploring this emotionally complex issue.
Lantana's tone, acting and dialogue are all smartly
realistic, and Sydney's burgeoning growth butting up against the wild plant
life around it forms an effective framing device for the oft-thorny
situations the film's characters are faced with. Likewise, Mandy Walker's
cinematography brings the tropical vibrancy of greater Sydney to life and
the score by composer Paul Kelly is evenhanded and appropriate to the
somber gravity of the subject matter.
The film's great failing lies in its too-convenient plot twists, staging
encounters that come off as awkward and overly contrived. Lantana is a powerful look at
indiscretions and the prices we pay for them, but its insistence on
connecting all of its loose threads only serves to unravel what might otherwise
have been a handsomely intricate quilt.
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