Directed by Ray Lawrence
Review by Matt Heffernan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
How to begin with a film like Lantana? Much like the similarly-titled Magnolia, this new Australian film features an ensemble cast in an entangled plot.
The character with the most screen time is Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia), a police detective in Sydney. However, the character that brings everything together is Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), an American psychiatrist and author of a book about her murdered daughter, Eleanor. Leon's wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) sees her, as does Patrick Phelan (Peter Phelps), a gay man who is having an affair with a married man. This makes Valerie doubt her own relationship with her husband, John (Geoffrey Rush), which has been drained of romance since their daughter's death.
Leon's marriage is also in trouble, mostly because he is having an affair with Jane (Rachael Blake), a woman who was recently separated from her husband and has been going to the same dance class as Leon and Sonja. Eventually, as you may have guessed, something happens that brings everybody together, including Jane's neighbors Nik and Paula (Vince Colosimo and Daniella Farinacci), and Leon's lovelorn partner Claudia (Leah Purcell).
The opening shot of a dead body will probably clue you in to the fact that this consolidating event will be a police matter. Guessing the identity of that dead body is not difficult, but that's not important. Lantana is less a whodunit than a romantic drama that focuses on several connected relationships. Director Ray Lawrence and writer Andrew Bovell (who adapted his own play Speaking in Tongues) keep the film tight and interesting well before the big plot comes along.
A great deal of the credit goes to the cast, especially LaPaglia, who returns to his homeland after fifteen years of making American films and television. He brings equal amounts of humor, strength, and vulnerability to his character, keeping the film as entertaining as it is engrossing.
There's no big climactic finish, but one isn't necessary for this film. If it had been a conventional whodunit, it would have failed. Lantana works perfectly well as an ensemble character piece and as a somewhat-erotic thriller. Essentially, it's what Gosford Park could have been if it wasn't so concerned about getting dressed and having dinner.
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Review © 2002 Matt Heffernan