review by Dan Lybarger, 25 January 2002
With its metaphorical title, the
multiple award-winning Lantana flirts with pretentiousness
but thankfully falls short of this objective. Despite some sequences
where writer Andrew Bovell (Strictly Ballroom) and director
Ray Lawrence (the 1985 adaptation of Peter Carey's Bliss)
initially appear to be aiming for cheap jolts, the two look at
marital discord in a fresh and honest light. At first, some of the
groping sequences seem silly and extraneous, but Bovell and Lawrence
do have a higher purpose than flashing skin.
The bush that figures in the film's
moniker dominates its opening shot. The flowers that come from the
shrub make the screen look like a Better Homes and Gardens
spread, but the loud, eerie buzz of insects hints that something
more sinister is occurring. Soon we discover the body of an
Abruptly, the scene shifts to the
ferocious coupling of Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) and Jane (Rachael
Blake). Both are married to other people. As far as Leon is
concerned, the illicit relationship is more an act of desperation
than passion. "This is not an affair," he later tells her.
"It's a one-night stand that happened twice." While still
pining for his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong), he is uncomfortable
talking with her. Depressed with the sudden approach of middle age,
Leon takes up jogging and extramarital dalliances to give himself a
feeling of vitality he hasn't had in years. Both wind up leading to
more frustration and chest pains. His ennui has rubbed off on Sonja
who takes her issues to Valerie (Barbara Hershey), her therapist.
Like most shrinks, Valerie has
issues of her own. The unsolved death of her daughter has inspired
her to write a best-selling book that has won her acclaim but
alienated her husband John (Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush). The two
exchange perfunctory courtesies but have reached the point where
they don't take the same vehicles to work even when their schedules
don't conflict. Aggravating her feelings of abandonment is the fact
that one of her patients is a gay man who continually boasts of an
affair he's having with a married fellow who sounds a lot like John.
Throughout Lantana all of
these folks come into contact with each other in odd, almost
peripheral ways. Leon is a detective and on his cases, he winds up
inadvertently crossing paths with Jane's husband (Glenn Robbins) and
her neighbors Nik (Vince Colosimo) and Paula (Daniela Farinacci).
The blue-collar couple have unspoken problems of their own because
Nik is terminally bored staying home with their kids because, unlike
his wife Paula, he's unable to find work. The connection between
these folks and the film's opening revelations doesn't play like a
conventional whodunit. The incident that leads to the pivotal death
occurs well into the movie, and Bovell, adapting his play Speaking
in Tongues, is clearly more interested in examining his
characters' hang-ups than in establishing the identity of a victim
Thanks to some fine work from
LaPaglia, this turns out to be a wise approach. As with his turn in Bulletproof
Heart, LaPaglia excels at playing men whose cold exteriors hide
desperate, seemingly futile longings. Because he's played Americans
so often, it's somewhat jarring to hear him use his native accent,
but Lantana allows him to demonstrate some chops he hasn't
had the opportunity to use in ages. Similarly, Armstrong also does a
fine job of wincing with unspoken torment. While the rest of the
cast is solid, Rush is disappointing as John. Rush seems more at
home playing extroverts like the Marquis de Sade (in Quills)
and the bumbling producer he played( in Shakespeare in Love)
than he does at playing quiet, tormented unfortunates. In Lantana,
Rush seems excessively mannered and appears to be itching to step
into the spotlight.
Even though Bovell and Lawrence are
working from a play, Lantana reveals more information through
its visuals than through the dialogue. LaPaglia's face seethes with
discontent as the camera reveals that Leon has met Jane at a dance
class he and Sonja are taking, and that Sonja likes the course a lot
more than he does. At times, the people in Lantana seem a
little too joyless to be likeable, but because Bovell and Lawrence
use subtle sequences like the ones in the dance courses, these
encounters are at least intriguing. It's also refreshing to see a
theatrical adaptation that doesn't look stiff or sound verbose
(think of the movie version of David Mamet's American Buffalo).
In many ways the finest moment in Lantana is the
closing montage. Lawrence flashes to snippets of all the characters'
fates and settles on a final shot of a couple dancing. The two are
moving gracefully but can't bring themselves to make eye contact.
This ending isn't neat or comfortable, but it makes the stories that
preceded it more compelling and believable.
Lani John Tupu
R - Restricted.
Under 17 not admitted without parent or adult