"Lantana", the newest film from Australia and director Ray Lawrence, is named for the tropical growth that blooms in colorful bursts only to hide the dense, thorny underbrush twisted within. In this case, it represents marriage.
Starring Anthony LaPaglia as Leon Zat, a still-waters-run-deep kinda guy, a guilt-ridden cop examining his marriage while searching for a missing woman. LePaglia has two facial expressions in the entire film but emotes with such power, you can’t ignore him. When he finally lets his guard down, it's overwhelming – stunning, even.
Kerry Armstrong plays his wife, Sonja, who, when not taking care of their two teenage sons, confesses to a therapist her fears and suspicions. Something has died in her marriage and she'd like it back, please.
The therapist, Veronica, has her own issues. Having never recovered from the murder of her 11-year-old daughter, Eleanor, she writes a book about it, much to the quiet disgust of her husband, John. The couple, played by the talented likes of Barbara Hershey and Geoffrey Rush, have lost one another somehow along the way back to normal life; their marriage is, as John describes it to Leon, "held together by grief."
Mistress to the confused Leon is Jane, played by Rachel Blake. Sultry, sad and naughty, Jane has recently separated from her husband, Pete, played by Aussie comedian Glenn Robbins, and is quite anxious to re-direct her love. Living next door are Nik and Paula, played by Vince Colosimo and Daniela Farinacci. They are the lone example of a strong marriage – strengthened by three children, brutal honesty, hot sex and loving threats. As Paula playfully warns Nik: "You mess with this marriage, I'll cut your balls off and hang them on the line with your jocks and socks." Aaah,true love.
The missing woman ties all these threads into one gnarled mess. The investigation brings up questions nobody feels much like answering. La Paglia is the main gem in a dazzling line-up of actors; strong performances are delivered up and down the line. The film is quintessentially Australian, demonstrated best through the sex scenes, depicted without music or special lighting but instead with the dry mechanics of real-life sex.
In one surreal scene, Leon accidentally jogs into another runner, really plows into him. Both men are covered in blood, noses are broken. Leon yells at the stranger who breaks into sobs without a word and collapses in Leon's arms. Confused, Leon, reluctantly holds the man as he weeps, right there on that suburban street. Later, Leon describes the unsettling scene to Pete who then asks, "Well, don't you ever feel like crying?"
"Well, yeah,” snorts Leon, with disgust, “but I don't. Jesus."
Yep, it’s tangled mess in there but Lantana is worth investigating. Bring your garden shears.
© 2003 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 1/23/02
Australia - 2001