Lantana Review

Main Entry: lan·ta·na
Pronunciation: lan-'tä-n&
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin, from Italian dialect, viburnum
Date: 1791
: any of a genus (Lantana) of tropical shrubs of the vervain family with showy heads of small bright flowers

Nine people - nine separate and very different lives that will ultimately intersect when one of them goes missing.

Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) is a middle-aged Australian police detective married to Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) and the father of two teenage sons. Unhappy with his life in general and his marriage in particular, he has a one-night stand with married Jane (Rachael Blake) whose husband Pete (Glenn Robbins) has moved out. To complicate matters even further, Sonja and Leon both attend the same Salsa lessons class as Jane. Jane lives next door to Nik (Vince Colosimo) a stay-at-home dad and Paula (Daniella Farinacci) a nurse and their three children. She likes to drink and listen to latin music and she has designs on Leon. Leon isn't the only one unhappy in the Zat marriage as Sonja attends regular sessions with her psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey). Valerie in turn is married to John (Geoffrey Rush) an academic, and they are both still grieving over the kidnap and murder of their eleven year-old daughter. Valerie also begins to suspect that John is having an affair. She keeps her grief at bay writing a novel about her deceased daughter and working long hours. One of Valerie's more interesting patients is a gay man named Patrick (Peter Phelps) who is having an affair with a married man. On the surface it would appear that nothing is wrong – but something is about to happen that will change all of their lives forever.

From the opening shot of a body laying tangled in the thorny Lantana underbrush, we know something horrific has happened. We will spend the next two hours finding out what, and to whom.

Lantana is based on screenwriter Andrew Bovell's play Speaking in Tongues. Set in Australia, it is a complex relationship drama disguised as a murder mystery. Leon is assigned the missing persons case and in the course of his investigation, all nine of the principal characters' lives will cross. Director Ray Lawrence (Bliss) chose to focus his efforts on the emotional deficiencies and stagnation of his male characters. It was refreshing to see the male of the species under a microscope. They are not always loving husbands and fathers. They have tempers, very bad tempers. They cheat, they lie, they cry, they withdraw and they ultimately disappoint. They are emotional cripples. The pacing was important to the film. You are given the opportunity to learn about and care for these people. Lawrence maintains a high level of suspense and anticipation.

The ensemble cast performs flawlessly. Rachael Blake as the plain and promiscuous Jane is the stand out, and LaPaglia is absolutely perfect, as the depressed, out-of-shape Leon totally immersed in his midlife crisis. Geoffrey Rush's John, is played low-keyed and detached and Barbara Hershey manages to give Valerie a sense of toughness and professionalism with an underlying sadness over her murdered daughter and failing marriage. One of the nicest surprises was the casting of Vince Colosimo and Daniella Farinacci as Jane's neighbour's Nik and Paula. Director Lawrence was impressed with their chemistry during auditions and it translates well onscreen. The story is slowly paced, but deliberately so. Lawrence takes ages to establish his characters, but the payoff is well worth the effort. LaPaglia is best known for his Italian-American tough guy roles, but I was surprised to learn he is a native Australian who emigrated to the U.S. Kerry Armstrong who plays Leon's wife Sonja, is elegant, loving and much put-upon.

The cinematography is stunning. Mandy Walker has utilised the best Australia has to offer and the Lantana that grows in abundance is gorgeous in its own right. Paul Kelly's spicy score is at once haunting and uplifting. Lawrence's first effort was a 1985 film called Bliss. Sixteen years and many millions of dollars later, he finally produced a second cinematic offering in Lantana. It has inevitably drawn comparisons to interlocking character-based films such as Magnolia and some of Altman's work, but those are only surface comparisons. Lantana has a style and charm of its own. Lies, deception, infidelity and marital discord abound, but at the heart of the film is an unflinching look at ordinary-looking people with ugly secrets and little hope who still want that elusive happiness. Everyone has something to hide - no one is without guilt, and they are all suspects.

Lantana swept the boards at the Australian Film Institute Awards, winning a total of seven awards including the awards for best film, best director and best screenplay.


The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and is taken from a near pristine print. There is slight edge enhancement in the nighttime scenes, but no pixellation or softness is evident. The colours in the daylight scenes are crisp and sharp and accentuate the already beautiful Australian landscapes and indigenous Lantana.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent. The center channel handles the dialogue beautifully and there is no hiss or distortion. Paul Kelly's fantastic score makes great use of the Surround and the film's outdoor ambient sound effects can be heard clearly through the rear speakers. English and Spanish subtitles are included.


Chapter Stops and Menus - There are twenty-four chapter stops, which are stills of the film set against a static background. The main menu features an animated clip from the film with LaPaglia and Armstrong dancing. At the bottom of the main menu is the Lions Gate logo, that when selected will begin playing the trailers from Lantana, Monster's Ball, Perfume and American Psycho 2 in sequence.

The Nature of Lantana - A wonderful thirty-minute featurette, The Nature of Lantana is an in-depth look into the making of this superb film. It includes film clips and telling interviews with the cast, crew and filmmakers. The commentary is provided by director Ray Lawrence, writer Andrew Bovell, and producer Jan Chapman. Casting and character details are discussed, along with technical obstacles, location changes and script-to-film difficulties.

Trailer - A polished-looking 1.33:1 trailer is included that offers a slightly more sinister spin on the film.


Lantana is a rich, multi-layered, interlocking relationship film that boasts an outstanding ensemble cast, gorgeous photography and a truly beautiful soundtrack. Director Ray Lawrence slowly and brilliantly peels away those multiple layers and exposes nine very tortured souls and the choices and consequences they are given and face. The excellent picture and sound quality as well as the fascinating featurette, make this short-on-extras DVD from Lions Gate well worth a look.

9 out of 10
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out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:41:13

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