Sep 21, 2014

Review: Lantana (2001)

I watch as much international cinema as I can but I guess that I kind of miss Australian films a lot of the time. I've never heard of director Ray Lawrence but is that really my fault anyway? The guy has made three movies in twenty one years! All three though have had their fair share of critical adulation though so I'm glad that I was able to final stumble on Lantana.

Ray Lawrence is an expert at delving into his characters and their relationships. With all the main actors pretty much being Australian except for Barbara Hershey, it's a really strong ensemble cast.
Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia is probably the easiest movie to compare Lantana with since both are movies that feature a whole bunch of characters with interweaving stories.


Genre: drama, mystery
Directed by: Ray Lawrence
Produced by: Jan Chapman, Mikael Borglund, Rainer Mockert, etc.
Written by: Andrew Bovell
Music by: Steve Hadley, Bruce Haymes, Paul Kelly, etc.
Running time: 121 minutes
Production company: MBP, Jan Chapman Productions, Australian Film Finance Corporation, etc.
Distributed by: Beyond Films, Palace Films, Lions Gate Films, etc.
Country: Australia
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: $15,747,450 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Russell Dykstra, Daniela Farinacci, Vince Colosimo, Daniella Farinacci, Peter Phelps, Leah Purcell, Glenn Robbins, Manu Bennett, Melissa Martinez, Nicholas Cooper, Marc Dwyer



Detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) is having an affair with a woman named Jane O'May (Rachael Blake). Jane is married as well, although separated and she knows Leon from a dance class that he's taking with his wife. Meeting his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) at the dance class, it's clear that their marriage is in trouble. Sonja is currently seeing therapist Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) about her issues and it so happens to she too is having marital problems following the death of her daughter. The final couple in this story are neighbours of Jane O'May. Nik (Vince Colosimo) and Hannah (Daniella Farinacci) seem happy enough together although they're struggling financially.


Lantana is one of those movies that takes its time. Although some people would just call it a slow movie that also happens to be boring, that's really not the case. Ray Lawrence directs this movie as if he's playing a game of chess. Everything is calculated and means something in the long run. What Lawrence does is build up such a detailed profile of every character. It's really intimate which is pretty incredible given that it's a movie that splits up the story between four couples, so it's not like everyone has unlimited amounts of screen time. 

Another thing that I really appreciate about Lantana is that it always preys upon your suspicions. The movie opens to the dead body of an unidentified woman in a bush. We don't know who it is until later on, but you start trying to figure out who that woman might be. Of course, you also try to figure out who the killer is among the characters we've grown to know. 

The film moves along at a nice pace between the eight characters. There's also a fair amount of mystery involved and the depth of the script into the characters' lives gives some really nice payoffs in the end. There are lots of prickly situations and coincidences between characters that happen but luckily none of them feel too convenient if you ask me. Lantana also benefits from some great acting talent, standouts to me being Barbara Hershey and Anthony LaPaglia.  

Lantana is rich in characters and in story. There's a lot of mystery and intrigue to enjoy and it benefits from a director who knows how to shoot a film as well as direct his actors. I now can understand why Ray Lawrence is seen as such an important part of Australian cinema. If you liked Magnolia then Lantana is definitely a movie you should see. The truth of it is, even if you didn't like Magnolia or have never seen it, watch Lantana anyway. Be patient, give it time and you'll be rewarded.



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