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Trust. A dead body in bracken. A cop cheats on his unhappy wife who, in secret, sees a psychiatrist whose own marriage is corroded by grief: she thinks her husband is having an affair with a gay patient of hers. The cop's lover, Jane, is recently separated, and her neighbors - a couple with children - include a muscular unemployed man. Late one night, the doctor skids off a back road, finds a call box, and tries in vain to reach her husband. She sees headlights and flags down the driver. Later that night, Jane sees her neighbor park his truck and throw something into the lantana in a vacant lot. It's a woman's shoe. Unraveling the mystery lays bare five couples. Written by
I'm not going to bother mentioning the acting, the camera, the music, the script, the editing or the direction beyond this. The acting is all intelligently filled with nuance and not a one steps, even briefly, outside the realm of believability. The camera is sophisticated without being showy. The music -- acoustic picking, rhythmic electric strumming, sparse piano -- underscores the film without ever making itself obvious or taking over. The screenplay (based on a play) consists of characters whose lives intersect in a way that's novel, yet not unbelievably so. The editing is smooth and unnoticeable and the direction is sharp and unobtrusive.
The film opens with the camera showing a dead body lying in an area of thickets. We're shown at the opening but won't need to worry about it for another hour. The first hour of the film is based solely on the relationships of its interconnecting characters.
We next see Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) having sex with a woman, who we later learn to be Jane (Rachael Blake). He's married, though, to Sonya (Kerry Armstrong) and she goes to a psychiatrist unbeknownst to Leon. It seems like Leon may be trying to cover up, or make seem less damaging to his marriage, his affair -- which he seems to get little joy from -- by making sure his two sons give him a kiss on the neck before going off to school. Leon is also a cop and early in the film he takes out his aggression -- which is a result of his pain -- on a drug dealer by being more rough with him than he should.
The psychiatrist Sonya goes to, Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) has another patient, Patrick (Peter Phelps). He's been seeing a married man and asks Valerie what he should do. Valerie, we see, grows uneasy, as if it hits close to home. As if she's dealt with this before. In a public speech she gives, Valerie (or should I say, the director) says that the home is a battleground for most, though it's not supposed to be. It is for her as well. She's lost her daughter to a murder and her relationship with her husband, John (Geoffrey Rush) is becoming increasingly empty. She suspects he may be having an affair as well.
When someone repeats something for us, "Making love to her was like trying to fill an empty well," we're fully aware that while one person in particular seems to take this to heart, this relates to each and every one of these characters. One reviewer on this site said that the characters in the film aren't full people. And I agree with him, only in a different way. They're fully fleshed-out characters, but they're only half full because they're perpetually bereft. Except for Paula (Daniella Farinacci) and Nik (Vince Colosimo), the couple that lives across the street from Jane. Later in the film when Paula says "He told me," the line has more meaning than it seems. This is the one relationship that is the exception to the film's rule.
The subtle hints we're given may or may not be important later on in the story, which after the half-way mark involves a police investigation; and the film manages to remain a drama about its characters throughout. The investigation exists in the background, as a device. It's strange that anyone would think the film is about the investigation by itself. If the film is about any one thing, it's about love and the quest to repair it after it's been damaged.
Valerie's own marital problems come to a head when she accosts a man on the street and accuses him of making a comment about her under his breath. The man turns out to be the ex-wife of Jane, who we meet again later during the investigation.
One night, Leon comes home to find his wife not there, goes to find her and discovers that she's gone to a dance club. The two have been taking dancing lessons, but Leon isn't very enthusiastic about them. Leon gets progressively more angry at himself, while Valerie is trying to make the best of a bad situation, even if the situation (at least on her side) gets inadvertently worse because of it. She's not out for revenge for what she suspects of her husband.
When Valerie drives down a back road and gets in an accident, she walks to a closed gas station and calls her husband, John and confronts him. When she doesn't come home, Leon and his partner Claudia (Leah Purcell), who's looking for love herself, are assigned to the missing persons case. There's wicked dramatic irony when John, after being questioned by Leon about his whereabouts and reacting with anger, asks him how he would react if his wife were to get in a car with a stranger, which is what the police have suspected Valerie did. In one scene between Leon and John (who is a suspect in his wife's disappearance) John admits that he didn't listen to his wife's very real cries for help.
By the end of the film, its stance towards marriage becomes, I think, increasingly pessimistic, as if any slight crack in a relationship would mean that both sides are doomed. But in the last segment, after the investigation is resolved, there's a glimmer of light for its characters. The final image suggests that the characters, and Leon in particular, have hope in working through their pain and transgressions and may someday be able to resume the dance.
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