Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachel Blake, Vince Colosimo, Leah Purcell, Glenn Robbins, Daniella Farinacci
"Lantana" is clearly one of 2001's best films. Australian director, Ray Lawrence (whose only other film, "Bliss" was made in 1985 and has achieved cult status), has filmed a work of impressive emotional honesty that aims directly at the heart and soul of both his flawed characters and audience. Lawrence sticks rigidly to his characters and never allows the camera or cinematic style to interfere with the story. This "substance over style" creates a disturbing, claustrophobic feeling that never allows the viewer to escape the uncomfortable, dark side of this troubled narrative. It would be impossible not to identify with one or all of the characters in this intertwined story of emotionally damaged souls awkwardly stumbling through life.
A murder investigation connects the characters to one another. Leon Zat (LaPaglia) is a cop on the trail of a missing psychiatrist, Dr. Valerie Somers (Hershey). Geoffrey Rush (in one of his finest film performances) as the missing doctor's cold, detached husband is a strong murder suspect. Lawrence cleverly unfolds each character as the investigation gains momentum. Slowly we are faced with unhappy marriages, loneliness, tragedy, failed relationships, and painful, tortured lives. (Lantana is a plant that produces a beautiful flower yet has sharp, thorny vines that intermingle as complex and tangled as the narrative in this film.) This is an uncomfortable film yet one is compelled to watch with the fascination of a curious eavesdropper.
"Lantana" is filled with brilliant performances. From LaPaglia's bitter, lost cop to Rachel Blake's lonely, despairing ex-housewife, the film is rich with complex and layered performances. Mandy Walker's penetrating camera, with its washed out natural light, never lets up on the painful, tragic nature of this sad mix of people who have been beaten to a pulp by life.
The brilliant writing of Andrew Bovell from his play "Speaking in Tongues" gives depth and believability to the story. In spite of the disturbing subject matter, "Lantana" ends with a quiet resilience.
"Lantana" was the big winner in 2001's Australian Film Institute awards, and looks to be a strong contender for Best Picture at the Oscars.