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Lantana (2001)

Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, more...
Director: Ray Lawrence, Ray Lawrence
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Rating:
Studio: Lions Gate
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Cops, Australia & New Zealand
Running Time: 120 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
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Synopsis
The intertwined lives of four couples living in and around Sydney, Australia, form the structure for this drama masquerading as a whodunit. Andrew Bovell freely adapted his play, Speaking in Tongues, opening up the action, as the geography and topography of Sydney and its suburbs become major characters as well. The film opens with a shot of what looks like a corpse entangled in a thick stand of branches -- the title plant, which grows in profusion in Australia. Bovell and director Ray Lawrence take their time in explaining whose body that is and then slowly reveal, with no help from a number of red herrings, how it happened to be there. The principal players are Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), a psychiatrist with issues over her child, a murder victim; her husband, John Knox (Geoffrey Rush), an aloof professor whom she suspects of infidelity; Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia), a police detective cheating on his wife, Sonja (Kerry Armstrong), who is a patient of Valerie's. Zat's mistress, Jane O'May (Rachael Blake), is someone he met at a dancing class his wife dragged him to; she is estranged from her husband, Pete (Glenn L. Robbins). Their neighbors, Paula (Daniela Farinacci) and Nik D'Amato (Vince Colosimo), try to stay neutral in the O'Mays' split; she works days as a nurse and he's unemployed and minds their children. Suspicion around the disappearance of one character manages to enmesh all of the others. Bovell's stories are about secrets, real and imagined, and how they can poison relationships. The film virtually swept all the major awards at the Australian Film Institute's annual ceremony, though its reception in the States was mildly respectful. ~ Tom Wiener, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Staff Pick: Those seeking meaty, intelligent fare should give a look to the accomplished and underseen Australian neo noir Lantana. Nimbly written by Andrew Bovell, based upon his stage play, and sharply directed by Ray Lawrence, Lantana may center around its compelling murder mystery plot - which is full of red herrings - but out of that comes an intricate portrayal of complex, tense adult relationships, investigating nothing less than the human condition itself. But it never feels like an exercise.

American TV viewers may be familiar with the charismatic Anthony LaPaglia from his work on Without a Trace and Murder One, and may be surprised to know of his fine work in his native Australia (see also: The Bank, for another terrific example). Just as surprising is American actress Barbara Hershey, who plays a therapist caught in a web of dysfunctional relationships - and thusly begins to question her own (the always effective Geoffrey Rush has a small but pivotal role as her husband). The entire cast is in fine form. What really makes this mystery a standout, however, is the way the decisions, revelations and plotting all come from these three-dimensional characters' hearts and muddled minds, rather than filmmaker gimmickry. That's the neatest trick of all. -- Craig Phillips




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Some of the GreenCine editorial staff's favorite, undervalued films, as seen on TV, er, in our newsletter and in the catalog. A running, constantly expanding list. See our new review blog Guru for many more!
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