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Lantana

Director: Ray Lawrence


One of the finest Australian films of recent years, and rightly showered with prizes at the nation’s annual film awards, Lantana is a satisfyingly complex adult drama about the lives of strangers who are connected in unexpected ways, like the characters in Short Cuts or Magnolia. Ostensibly, Ray Lawrence’s film (only his second feature, after 1995’s Bliss) is also a crime thriller, and its leading character, Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), is an experienced detective who is investigating an apparent murder. But the crime story is merely a device, and indeed a red herring. The film’s real concern is not with solving a crime but with investigating the pained emotional lives of the chief protagonists, each of whom comes to feel betrayed or isolated in their relationships.
Everything centres on Leon, whose work is beginning to be affected by a sense of dissatisfaction with his marriage. His wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) can’t figure what’s wrong with their relationship and goes to see psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), who in turn is trying to comprehend the gulf that exists between herself and her own husband, John (Geoffrey Rush), a troubled academic. When Valerie disappears and is feared murdered, Leon is assigned to the case and suspects John. But all the evidence points to the guilt of Nik D’Amato (Vince Colosimo), a minor character and seemingly the only happily married man in the entire drama.
Nothing is quite as it first appears in Lantana, whose very title might suggest the name of some Latin number featured in the dance classes attended by Leon and Sonja in their spare time. In fact, ‘Lantana’ is the name of a tropical shrub that was imported into Australia and is characterised by a flowery exterior and a strong, tough undergrowth. The film opens with the camera prowling amongst such foliage before penetrating far enough to reveal the remains of a woman’s body. The symbolism may sound a trifle heavy handed, but the film is not so. Everything is grounded in a series of very fine performances, with LaPaglia (an Australian best know for his American work) outstanding as the pained cop who takes no pleasure in his indulgences.
Australia, 2001. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 115 mins.

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