Lantana (15)

Review by Jack Foley

RELATIONSHIPS take centre stage in Lantana, a psychological thriller about love which has to rate as one of the finest movies of the year.

Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey, this Altman-esque Australian potboiler is a multi-layered and frequently pulsating journey through four marriages, all of which seem unrelated at first, but which become drawn into a tangled web of love, deceit, sex and death following the disappearance of one woman.

Navigating his way through them is LaPaglia’s ‘rough around the edges’ Leon Zat, a violence-prone cop attempting to cope with a mid-life crisis, who is having an affair (with Rachael Blake’s far from plain Jane!) and suffering from chest pains.

His wife, meanwhile (played by the beautiful Kerry Armstrong), is also suffering from self-doubt and seeks solace in her dance lessons and in the sympathetic ears of Hershey’s tortured psychiatrist, a woman still coming to terms with the death of her daughter and who is beginning to question the sexuality of her own, distant husband (played by Rush).

Zat’s mistress, on the other hand, is having issues of her own, caught between the need for some stability and her desire for Zat and, possibly, the happily married bloke next door (Vince Colosimo’s Nik), who may, in turn, know something about the corpse seen at the beginning of the movie and which provides the catalyst for Zat’s journey of self-discovery.

Sound complicated? Well, it is credit to director Ray Lawrence that proceedings never become too convoluted or contrived, as its tangled plot unfolds in a way that constantly surprises and always grips.

The title of the movie takes its name from the opening image - that of a woman caught within a twisted and entangled vine, a woman wearing a gold ring on her finger, a married woman, who is trapped by 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.

For Andrew Bovell, who wrote the screenplay, it provides a ‘literal and metaphoric resonance to the story’, which, in turn, is about ‘human vulnerability and about people reaching a particular stage in their lives when they need to question and re-examine how they are living, particularly in the nature of love and relationships’.

The movie itself was inspired by the stage version of Bovell’s own screenplay - Speaking in Tongues - and was something which the writer admits to believing might not work on film; yet the resulting picture won seven Australian Film Institute Awards (including Best Film and Best Director) when it was released last year. It is easy to see why.

Lantana is a tough, uncompromising depiction of adult relationships, stripped bare, that is under-pinned by some of the year’s grittiest performances. Rush and Hershey, as we have come to expect, stand out, as do the likes of the lesser-known Armstrong and Colosimo, but this is LaPaglia’s movie and his raw portrayal of the reprehensible Zat is a revelation.

LaPaglia has made a career out of providing solid support in movies such as The Client and Summer of Sam, but here produces a mesmerising star turn, which is as honest and intense as it is conflicted and life-affirming.

High praise indeed, but with a film this good, it is easy to run out of superlatives.

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