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?