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LANTANA (2001) **** (out of four)
"Lantana" does not embody a story like most movies; it isn't about anything in particular. It's a movie about characters. Not larger-than-life super heroes, but characters who succumb to temptation, cheat on their wives, doubt their spouses, make mistakes and suffer consequences. In other words, "Lantana" is about real people. Normal, imperfect people like all of us. Not that everyone behaves like the characters here, but few films capture transgression with such compassion and sympathy.
Set in Australia, a colorful pallet of characters paints a vivid, coherent psychological portrait of infidelity, deceit, and estrangement. At the center of the film is four couples, immersed in guilt and depravity for different reasons. Everybody has something to hide. The conflicts of these people illuminate the personal crisis of a police detective (Anthony LaPaglia) as he investigates the disappearance of a local woman.
Apart from the investigation, the couples have little connection with each other. They do have one thing in common, however, that none of them communicates with their loved ones. "Lantana" proves communication enforces commitment, but a lack thereof results in disaster. This sincere, uncompromising picture places the lack of communication at the center of family problems.
The film won various Australian Film Awards for its performances, screenplay, and direction by Ray Lawrence. Lawrence clearly intended the title-referring to a tropical shrub with beautiful flowers that hide dense, thorny undergrowth-to represent the characters' private lives hidden behind an outward appearance. He's got the wrong metaphor. These characters do not appear sunny on the inside, outside, front or back. They don't wear masks or attempt to cover their frowning states of mind. They are unhappy people, and the movie never pretends otherwise.
Those qualities make the characters absorbing. Instead of providing them with outlets and opportunities to hide their faults, the film pokes, prods, and starves them of their happiness until they reach a breaking point. For some, the breaking point results in an explosion of anger. For others, it's subtle and personal. "Lantana" investigates real people who deal with real situations and encounter real consequences.
None of the characters are model citizens, yet we care deeply about each of them. When someone cries, we feel sorry for them. When someone begs for forgiveness, we try to forgive them. When someone questions their spouse, we are concerned with both sides of the marriage. These people make big mistakes; the results of their mistakes are never certain. The movie does not neatly pull things together at the end. It doesn't allow the characters an easy way out. These characters must dig themselves out of their problems.
"Lantana" is one of the most compelling, involving films of the year. It's based on a play called "Speaking in Tongues" by Andrew Bovell, who also wrote the fluid screenplay. I want to see this play. If these characters feel so alive, so real, so tormented on screen, think of their power in person.
In this starkly realistic examination of love and infidelity among the
thirtysomething crowd from down under we learn that you may desire to
cheat on your spouse, but it's better if you don't.
Leon Zat, a police detective played with an original and striking demeanor by Anthony LaPaglia, cheats on his wife and finds that his adultery compromises not only his marriage but his performance on the job. He becomes irritable and flies off the handle at things of little importance, and becomes consumed with guilt.
He is not alone. The marriage of John Knox (Geoffrey Rush) and psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) is falling apart as Knox seeks something from the outside and Somers is torn apart with the suspicion that he is having a homosexual affair, perhaps with one of her clients. Meanwhile Jane O'May (Zat's adulteress played by Rachael Blake) finds that she needs a man, or maybe two, other than her estranged husband. Even Sonja Zat (Kerry Armstrong) feels the pressure and yearns to feel attractive, perhaps with younger men.
More than halfway through we have an apparent murder and an investigation during the course of which some of the adulteries come to light and cause the participants to examine themselves and their lives closely.
Andrew Dovell wrote the subtle, richly attired script, full of penetrating dialogue and an uncompromising veracity, adapting it from his play Speaking in Tongues. Ray Lawrence directed in an unusual but compelling manner in which the scenes are sharply focused and cut to linger in our minds. Again and again I was startled with just how exactly right was something a character said or did. Lawrence's exacting attention to detail gives the film a textured and deeply layered feel so that one has the sense of real life fully lived. The cast is uniformly excellent although LaPaglia stands out because of his most demanding role. His performance is one of the best I have seen in recent years. The only weakness in the film is a somewhat lethargic start, partially caused by Lawrence's cinéma vérité scene construction and editing. What he likes to do is lead us to a realization along with the characters and then punctuate the experience by lingering on the scene, or in other cases by cutting quickly away. Often what other directors might show, he leaves to our imagination, and at other times he shows something seemingly trivial which nonetheless stays in our mind. John Knox's affair, for example, is not shown. Jane O'May and her husband's reconciliation is left to our mind's eye. Yet the scene with Valerie Somers in the lighted telephone booth (with graffiti) is shown at length and then what happens next is not. These are interesting directorial choices.
The ending comes upon us, as it sometimes should, unexpectedly, but then resonates so that we can see and feel the resolution. Not everything is tied up. Again we are left in some cases to use our own imagination.
This original film, one of the best of the new millennium I have seen, stayed with me long after they ran the closing credits. It is well worth the two hours.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
What struck me the most about Lantana was not the well-laid plot, more the
thoroughly realistic characters and performances. The classic 'mystery'
thread was really only the setting for the several different relationships
and couples featured in the film.
But having said that, the story itself was gutsy and twisting to keep you guessing till the end, all without the need for non-essential narrative or the need to keep spelling things out. The questions were all answered so far as the story was concerned, but because of the complexity and realism in all the principle characters, i still left the cinema rolling plenty of the emotional issues through my mind for hours after.
La Paglia was fantastic. His character, though shown as an adulterer from the very beginning, captured so many of the current male 'indentities' with great subtlety instead of a stereotyped 'hug session' which most recent films dealing with the subject matter inevitably lead to. He so easily showed the internal conflicts which most normal Australian men deal with day-to-day while still keeping up the brave face we all do.
I also enjoyed the quirky way the relatively small number of characters were all drawn together by fairly consequential links, and without a huge big statement of it in the end - no matter how many people there are on the planet, it still amazes me how small and incestual problem-circles end up becoming :)
This film has the potential to appeal to so many different audiences - works as a mystery, cop-drama, "chick flick", and to anyone who could ever relate to the 'feel' of Australia, which the film captures perfectly through great ambient audio and natural-looking lighting.
Well written, directed, photographed and cast give this one an easy full marks.
Why are the people that don't have a thing to say about this film think that
it is so slow? Also, for that matter, why are they comparing it to Short
Cuts and Magnolia?
Lantana is a fine film thanks to the sure direction of Ray Lawrence and the fine script by Andrew Bovell. This was certainly a nice surprise coming from Australia, which has given us a great many interesting films and that keeps telling world wide audiences there sure is life after Hollywood and the formula styled fare that has been coming from the La-La Land in the last years.
To begin with, the cast is first rate. Anthony Lapaglia keeps getting better and better all the time. Aside from his work on stage, namely, The Rose Tatoo and A View from the Bridge, on Broadway, his appearances in films are always convincing. He's the kind of actor that doesn't repeat himself. He has such a presence and magnetism that we can't take our eyes from him throughout the duration of Lantana.
His character here is full of anger. He's at the point in his life where a mistake will make him lose his wife and children by straying to an area where he shouldn't have gone in the first place. His wife beautifully played by Kerry Armstrong is incredible. She has an integrity and dignity that many women should envy. She's sure of herself and her life with even a husband that might have and affair but who comes running back to her when he realizes what's at stake.
Barbara Hershey is another actress that always gives us a new dimension to her craft. She's never been better in her last appearances under the direction of Mr. Lawrence. Even Geoffrey Rush, an actor who could go off the top in many of his roles, plays the right note here.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Lantana is a great film. The best thing is to relax and enjoy this well crafted drama.
This well-delivered ensemble piece is a film version of Andrew Bovell's play SPEAKING IN TONGUES. It deals with adult relationships, particularly the sexual tension and anxiety that eventually develops in mature relationships. The plot and interaction between characters depends heavily on coincidence, but this isn't a major flaw in a film that really concerns itself with adult behavior patterns. That aspect of the film is sophisticated and honest; well worth the viewer's time. Brooding, subtle and smart are the words for LANTANA and I highly recommend it.
The movie surprised me not in that it was good, which it was but I was
expecting that, but the dynamics of all the characters.
The intertwining plot was played out beautifully on screen and all the characters were portrayed brilliantly by all the actors. I didn't realize for the longest time that Anthony LaPahglia was NOT American and in fact an Aussie. Go him!
Love Geoffrey Rush anyway and he did a great job as the mysterious and suspected husband. The relationships portrayed in the film come across as so real and true that it's sometimes difficult to remember that none of the people are ACTUALLY married.
All in all, great film, great ensemble cast, great writing, directing, etc. View and be happy.
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.
I thought this movie was very good. It moved slowly at the beginning and you jumped to a lot of conclusions but as the story unfolded, I found myself trying to figure out which way the writers were going. The storyline was surprising. As for the acting, I can honestly say that all of the actors were superb, especially Anthony LaPaglia, who is an incredible actor and who did an amazing job with his character. You felt as if you were right there with him. kudos to the whole cast on this fine movie.
If Miramax had been distributing "Lantana," you'd have heard as much
about this movie as "In the Bedroom."
Anthony LaPaglia matches Tom Wilkinson for a low-burning but implosive performance. New to U.S. audiences, Kerry Armstrong is captivating.
While it's absolutely fascinating to see how screenwriter Andrew Bovell opened up his play "Speaking in Tongues," though both stand on their own, particularly for their frank look at the issue of the frailty of trust and betrayal, between husbands and wives, lovers, families and friends.
The movie makes much better thematic use of a cinematic technique of visual coincidences that other films have used as a gimmick. Here the coincidences provide crucial, ever more difficult tests, leading to either sins of omission or sins of commission as those without trust jump to conclusions or hold on to their love and faith in their partner.
The music is by Paul Kelly and is superbly atmospheric, creating a noir atmosphere and building up the tension with a continuing theme that alternates with sexy salsa music. In particular, a leit motif plays ominously whenever the titular, tropical plant fills the screen.
The crowded audience interpreted ironic comments as high comedy, which was annoying, but perhaps helped to break the tension. There was a lot of audience talking as the story was half-told visually --a particularly neat change from the original play--and the coincidences would be revealed to the audience.
This is a sophisticated film for grown-ups that absolutely respects the intelligence of its viewers.
(originally written 1/21/2002)
"Lantana" is one of those rare films which which transcends entertainment with meaningful messages, however subliminal, while avoiding the dumbing-down, flocking, hype, titillation, and other excesses of the usual Tinseltown product and relying solely on good story telling. The film uses the nonlinear Magnoia-esque jigsaw puzzle approach showing a piece of each player one at a time while methodically completing the final puzzle picture. Though the film involves a cop, a shrink, a missing woman, infidelity, adultery, grief, suspicion, etc., "Lantana" isn't about any of these things; a fact which is made clear in the end when the final puzzle piece is dropped into place. A must see for mature realists into serious drama.
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