It is summer in Australia and, like the weather, the Australian film industry is hot. Over the past few years, movies filmed in Australia such as The Matrix, Mission: Impossible 2, Moulin Rouge and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode II have been box-office successes in the United States.
While those movies were made in blockbuster fashion for U.S. audiences, Lantana (Lion’s Gate Films) is purely Australian. To an American moviegoer the film will seem full of cliches. But stepping back, one may see a striking example of quality modern cinema.
Director Ray Lawrence takes a realist approach to filmmaking. Characterized by Andrew Bovell’s intense screenplay and honest performances from the cast, the film takes a familiar storyline of strained relationships and adds modern twists.
Police detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) is having an affair with Jane O’May (Rachael Blake). His marriage to his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) is falling apart. Sonja is attending therapy sessions with Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), who is having marital problems of her own. Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush plays John, Valerie’s emotionally distant husband. Vince Colosimo and Daniella Farinacci play the young couple of Nik and Paula D’Amato, whose love is the most tested in the movie.
The lives of the characters become intertwined as Valerie mysteriously disappears one night after she drives her car off the road. Leon is assigned to the case and delves into Valerie’s personal life to explain her disappearance. Was her husband involved in anyway? Was it one of her clients? Or was it just a mysterious stranger?
At a therapy session, Sonja says, “I’m middle-aged. I don’t know what it’s like out there.” Place an emphasis on the word middle-aged. The movie is for the older audience. Lantana addresses the problems often associated with middle-aged couples as seen in film and television. The husband is having an affair, the wife is unhappy and the divorced couple comes back together in a time of crisis.
LaPaglia shines as the bruised Leon. The character evolves throughout the movie from a bitter husband to a hard-nosed cop and finally into a forgiving man. The events of the film travel through him, although they are jump-started by Valerie’s frantic phone calls before her disappearance.
The lack of artificial lighting in the film brings grittiness to the screen. There is mood to each scene, although it is always changing according to the location. The blue shadow from the moon is shivering, and the sun’s early morning rays through the curtains provided a sense of calm.
A Lantana is a plant that is green and leafy with aromatic flowers. But, beneath its beautiful exterior lies a web of thick, thorny roots and vines. Lantana the movie is the same. It looks straightforward from the outside, but once viewed it is a thriller with twists and turns.