Country: Australia, Germany
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Director: Ray Lawrence
Writer: Andrew Bovell, based on his own play SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Cinematography: Mandy Walker
An extolled Aussie movie from director Ray Lawrence, who has only sporadically directed 3 films to date, LANTANA is the second one and indisputably the most well-known, in the opening gambit, a subjective camera sinuously ushers audience into a lantana bush in Sydney suburbia, instantly harks back to the beginning of David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET (1986), then portentously reveals a female body and, in particular, points up the wedding ring on her finger.
Who is the victim? Well, it will take over an hour before we find out, at the meantime, Lawrence impresses us as an excellent dramatist, the quotidian lives of four couples are interwoven lucidly through his ingenious diegetic device, in the center of the story is Leon (LaPaglia), a cop whose life seems to be perfect, still, he is cheating on his wife Sonja (Armstrong) with Jane (Blake), a woman recently separated from her husband Pete (Robbins). Without telling Leon, a discontented Sonja begins to visit the shrink Valerie (Hershey), to give a vent of her frustration and suspicion, meanwhile, Valerie and her husband John (Rush), an academic, are mired in inconsolable grief because two years ago, their 11-year-old daughter was murdered, to John’s dissent, Valerie has written a book about their daughter to conciliate her post-traumatic state, but unbeknownst to her, John his own method to wrestle with his mourning process, an enormous emotional gap begins to drift themselves apart from each other.
Soon, Jane discovers that what Leon wants is nothing but a one-night-stand because apparently he still loves his wife, she manages to make the nights into two, but their affair ends with a mutual cessation. A disheartened Jane hangs out with her next-door-neighbours, a young couple Nik (Colosimo) and Paula (Farinacci), they have three little ones, and take extra shifts in the work to make ends meet, but Paula keeps an alert eye on Jane and Nik. On the other hand, Valerie, becomes highly paranoid with her patient Patrick (Phelps), a gay man who is embroiled into a sexual relationship with a married man, she has a galling hunch that, the said married man is John and she is the wife who refuses to face the reality, during their sessions, the tension between them augments, and it doesn’t augur well.
The answer starts to be unveiled when Valerie is missing after presumably hitchhiking a vehicle in the late night when her car breaks down on her way home, Leo and his colleague Claudia (Purcell) start to investigate the case, and everyone aforementioned inevitably becomes a piece of the jigsaw (if one can accept the dramatic license that such coincidence can be realistically consigned to this small group of people), and the aftermath will precipitate a reverberation which can permanently affect their respective lives, to various degrees.
As an archetypal character discourse, the film speaks volumes of how people constantly make wrong decisions due to our whimsical impulse and subsequently suffer from the ripple effects, in this case, a sudden death without a nominal perpetrator, still, near the end, the story lays bare who is the most culpable one. The gender politics is pungently underscored by the movie’s tactful treatment of its core characters’ foibles, men ooze danger from their carriage, sexually aggressive or manipulatively passive aggressive, hormone-driven and guilt-ridden, whereas women are dubious, paranoid, vindictive and perennially ambivalent in their feelings, what they say more often than not, is not consonant what they really think, yet the tenor never descends into either misandry or misogyny in Lawrence’s clinical execution, because essentially those foibles are ubiquitously residing inside every and each one of us, and so unobtrusive sometimes, they elude our consciousness completely, yet, the film testifies that, damage can be done, however so subliminal to each individual, a result borne out of an involuntarily accrued effect from those who are randomly interconnected. On top of that, Lawrence masters a tactile sense of fluidity and empathy into the story-line, sublimates an urban mystery into an intoxicating study of love, trust, betrayal, deception and grief, and renders its poignant after-effect anything but fault-finding.
Great ensemble consisted of a mostly indigenous cast (Armstrong, Blake and Colosimo all deserve a name-check), LaPaglia returns to his motherland from his usual Hollywood turf and is instigated into an arresting turn easily his career-best, a tough cop compromised by his betrayal out of domestic ennui, not entirely sympathetic but the performance is undeniably visceral. Geoffrey Rush, buckles down to the most evasive and embattled role among of all, is a marvel to witness, so is Ms. Hershey, comes on board after her fantastic tour-de-force in Jane Campion’s THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY (1996), she proffers her character with a strong dosage of self-affirmation and at once shows her fatal vulnerability which makes Valerie’s ill-fated disappearance excruciatingly unsettling. The film corroborates again why she is the most undervalued thespian among her USA compatriots, a two-time Cannes’ BEST ACTRESS honor has failed to ricochet her into a much celebrated sphere where enshrines Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Glenn Close of that ilk. In short, Lantana is a must-see for keen-eyed cinephiles.