Putting marriage to the test

Preview by Jack Foley

THERE will be few finer films released this year than Lantana, a psychological thriller about love from Australia starring Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey and Geoffrey Rush.

Directed by Ray Lawrence and released in America at the tale end of last year to near-unanimous acclaim, the film centres around the disappearance of a woman and the four marriages which are subsequently drawn into a tangled web of love, deceit, sex and death. Needless to say, not all of them survive.

According to its publicists, the film is about the mistakes we make, the consequences we suffer and the attempts we make to fix things up. It centres around LaPaglia's Detective Leon Zat, an adulterer attempting to cling on to his marriage, who moves through a dark labyrinth of human relationships on his journey to solve the mystery of the woman's disapperance.

Integral to Zat's journey are those undertaken by Hershey's psychologist (still trying to come to terms with the murder of her daughter years earlier) and her husband, Rush, who may or may not be involved in an affair of his own.

According to Lawrence, Lantana was based around the concept of a woman driving alone, who breaks down and then makes a series of phone calls, basically talking to the answering machine about her life. It subsequently became the stage play, Speaking in Tongues, before being updated to film.

And although writer Andrew Bovell confesses that a film was not immediately apparent from the stage production, the final product is one of the year's best thrillers, fuelled by some powerhouse performances from its cracking leads, and an intelligent and frequently black script.

Lantana won seven Australian Film Institute Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and contines to attract acclaim wherever it opens. It takes its name from the opening image in the film - that of a woman caught within the twisted and entangled vine, a woman who wore a gold ring on her finger, a married woman - the vine itself with its twisted branches covered in tiny thorns that could cut you to shreds as well as lush green leaves, colourful flowers and moments of exquisite beauty.

According to Bovell, this 'provided both a literal and metaphoric resonance to the story'.

Lantana opens in UK cinemas on August 23. Make sure you catch it.

WHAT THE US CRITICS HAD TO SAY...

CRITICS in America were keen to recognise the brilliance of this thriller, lining up to heap praise upon it. LA Weekly, perhaps, hit the nail on the head, by referring to Lantana as being 'notable for its power of surprise and its refusal to immediately clarify the confusion of these lost souls'.

The New York Post described it as 'thoughtful' and 'well-paced'; the New York Times declared that this is an 'astonishingly well-acted film', while the New York Daily News said that 'the ensemble performances are topnotch' - both the Post and the Daily News also awarded it three out a possible four stars.

Another three star rating came from American movie-mag Premiere, which described it as 'a moody, often incisive mystery-character study', while Planet Sick-Boy felt that it '[comes] off as more of a dark, suburban murder-mystery with a multi-strand narrative, or a Robert Altman-helmed version of American Beauty'.

Hollywood Reporter stated that it is 'a strong, consistently engrossing drama that boils with emotions distinctly real and recognizable'.

There were some bad notices, however, with the weirdly named Cranky Critic describing it as a 'tedious, not thrilling cop flick', while Village Voice found that 'the oppressively hesitant, reticent tone often seems like mere counterballast to the mounting implausibilities'.

However, the final word goes to USA Today, which summed it up perfectly, saying that 'it lingers in the mind the way so many of this year's Hollywood releases have not'. Quite!

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