Guest Review: Lantana (2001)

Lantana begins with ambient music and a tracking shot of vegetation which eventually come to rest on a woman’s corpse, face down so that we can’t tell who she was. Then we meet the characters whose lives are entangled like the branches of a lantana shrub, a perennial flowering plant that has a tendency to take over and is now considered a weed in many places. There is Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), a cop who is married to Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) and having an affair with Jane (Rachael Blake), who used to be married to Pete (Glenn Robbins); Jane lives next door to Nik (Vince Colosimo) and Paula (Daniela Farinacci), a happily married couple with two young children; Sonja is seeing a psychologist, Valerie, who is married to John, but thinks that her husband is having an affair with one of her (male) patients, Patrick (Peter Phelps).

Do you need a score card yet? The characters’ paths cross occasionally and awkwardly, but nothing really gets snarled up until Valerie goes missing. Leon and his colleague Claudia (Leah Purcell) are put on the case. In the process of the investigation, we see that none of these people really knows or trusts anyone else, and that they all keep secrets.

The film, released in 2001 and directed by Ray Lawrence, is based on the play Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell, The visual composition, soundtrack, and secret-heavy plot all reminded me of David Lynch’s work, visually and thematically, particularly Blue Velvet (angst in a normal-seeming town) and Twin Peaks (woman goes missing, secrets surround her life), though Lantana doesn’t share Lynch’s use of sound.

The script slowly reveals all of the relationships between the characters. It may seem at times as if the narrative has stalled, but in spite of this, the story drew me in until I wanted to see what would happen. It’s definitely an ensemble piece; the acting is uniformly good, and no one performance stood out, not even Geoffrey Rush’s. The story takes place in a suburb of Sydney and while there are some giveaways that it was filmed there, it basically could be anywhere in the English-speaking areas of the world.

While overall it was a compelling mystery, Lantana doesn’t offer much of a positive spin on relationships. Throughout the film, Claudia has been telling Leon about her crush, a man she sees at the Chinese restaurant eating alone, like her. When she finally talks to her crush, it’s difficult to feel much hope for her. It’s the film’s constant emphasis on mistrust and betrayal that becomes heavy-handed and tends towards overkill, and that’s the aspect of this film that earns it 3 stars instead of 4.

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear what you think. As for the rest of you, are interested in seeing this one?

22 thoughts on “Guest Review: Lantana (2001)

    1. Thanks Dave, I didn’t know about any of his other films until I researched Lantana. I’m curious about the others now. I didn’t think to check if they were based on stage plays or not, I think that would make a difference.

      1. Bliss (Peter Carey) and Jindabyne (aka Where Water Comes Together With Other Water by Raymond Carver) were both books. Bliss won the Austrailian Academy Award in ’85 and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Jindabyne came out to mixed reviews but it starred the excellent Gabriel Byrne (Ruth 😉 ) and Laura Linney.

        Carey’s book Oscar and Lucinda was turned into a movie starring Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett, and Tom Wilkinson. Quite the dream cast, huh, Ruth?

        Carver’s short stories were colleceted and published as Short Cuts: Selected Stories which was then made in to a movie by Robert Altman. The book was set in the Pacific Northwest but moved to So Cal for the movie.

          1. You know I never saw that movie. Was it good? He did write a book about The Kelly Gang which won a lot of awards. I’ll have to look that one up. Couldn’t find a connection to them using the book as source material but I did find this on Wiki: “The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) now recognised as the world’s first feature-length film had a then-unprecedented running time of 60 minutes.”

        1. He..he.. I love that you mention me when you said Gabriel Byrne, another actor with the initial ‘GB’ that I love 😀 Man, I haven’t seen Oscar and Lucinda, what’s wrong with me?? I gotta rectify that situation soon. Thanks Dave.

  1. Your review is compelling enough to make me want to check it out, but given I’m not a fan of Lynch’s style and the dark subject matter, I don’t know if I’ll enjoy it. It does look beautifully-shot though. I think I’d probably like Flame & Citron more, which I still have yet to see 😦

    1. I definitely preferred Flame & Citron! that picture was right up my alley…

      But if it’s any help, Lantana isn’t as dark as Black Swan or Fish Tank…it’s like a couple steps away from that. Only one character has anywhere like the mental health issues like Nina in Black Swan and nobody gets as angry as the characters in Fish Tank do.

        1. I don’t know which was first. Haven’t seen all of An Education so I couldn’t say how alike they are, though Education wasn’t as involving to me as Fish Tank. Both were interesting but i didn’t care as much about the main character in, and i wasn’t as disturbed by, An Education. Just my opinion.

          Sounds like maybe a good idea for a blog post though 🙂

    1. HI Tyler, this film DEFINITELY has that. One thing that struck me after I wrote the review was that, though the level of coincidence for all these people to be connected to each other might sound improbable, within the movie it somehow seemed perfectly natural. It’s a conceit but it works.

      Let us know what you think 🙂

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