Opening on the discovery of a corpse in some dense shrubbery, Lantana swiftly moves to a more earthy scene where a local policeman, Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) is having a one night stand with Jane (Rachael Blake) who’s own marriage nose-dived into oblivion a few weeks ago. Leon’s seems to be hell-bent on doing the same with his, although neither he nor his wife (Kerry Armstrong) seem to be able to pinpoint what is so wrong in their marriage. On the other side of town, Dr. Valeria Sommers (Barbara Hershey) and her husband (Geoffrey Rush) are also at a stalemate in their relationship. Neither of them has managed to confront a deafening void that has formed between them turning them both into strangers…
Based on a Andrew Bovell’s play, “Speaking in tongues”, Lantana is an honest and stark account of what happens when love goes through its worst trials. The spirituality hinted at in the original title is present throughout, be it in the sense of human fallibility, moral frailty or thirst for redemption; Lantana isn't however a vapid remake of The End of the Affair, nor is it, despite the multi-stranded nature of the story, the title’s botanical reference and the uplifting themes of death, depression and infidelity, a pale Australian copy of Anderson’s Magnolia. Lantana is one of those films that surprises you at every turn without ever seeming to try too hard – from the outset, Lawrence seems to envelop the audience in his world and has you feeding from his hand until the credits appear.
A large part of the film’s emotional power comes from a near-perfect cast. In fact, it’s hard to flaw anyone’s performance - Barbara Hershey easily equals her earlier pinnacle as the troubled Lee in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and LaPaglia, Rush and Armstrong produce similarly flawless characterisations. Even the more secondary characters are well-developed and fully fleshed out by the likes of Leah Purcell or Russell Dykstra.
Despite the source material, the film shows virtually no signs of the clumsy stage-to-screen transpositions that has plagued so many films – Lawrence’s use of existing locations and realistic cinematography manages to smother any remaining doubts. The choice to film in the wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio was a clever choice allowing the characters to appear completely isolated in a vast expanse of space – the cinematography on the whole is rather restrained but this understated approach to filming helps make the camera almost transparent at times, allowing us to be submerged by the environment.
Quite why Lawrence is wasting his talent filming ad campaigns is anyone’s guess – he’s obviously a truly talented director and one can only hope that he starts to make feature films on a more regular basis. Lantana, though refusing to give easy answers to the questions raised, is one of the most outstanding movies of the last year and fully deserves all the positive press and accolades it received…
The image:I couldn’t really see much wrong with it – there's little in way of visible print damage or artifacting… The colours are rendered beautifully and the image isn’t overly contrasty. I did find that there was a slight lack of sharpness in some scenes and some edge enhancement was noticeable on close inspection. Globally it is quite a good transfer and probably as good as we’ll get for this film.
The sound:Although heavily dialogue driven, we do get a 5.1 mix which is quite effective in certain scenes. It’s no major assault on the senses but a tasteful use of the tool with the voices being mixed to the center of the field. The voices are clear and tend to be easily audible throughout.
The menus:Rather basic but effective – a small excerpt from the film traverses the screen as you make your choices with the soundtrack playing in the background. One black point though – you have to sit through a minute and a half of silly logos and copyright information before you can start the film – stupid and pointless.
The extras:We get a director/producer/writer commentary in 5.1 – though in fact the commentary only uses right, left and center with each participant isolated in one area. The commentary is globally very interesting though it tends to become silent a little too easily - the interventions by Bovell and Lawrence are the more numerous and offer a great deal of insight into the writing and the filming process (though infuriatingly referring to deleted scenes that are not included!).
After that we get an excellent 40-minute long behind the scenes feature which eschews the usual pitfalls and makes for a worthwhile viewing – the entire cast is interviewed as well as the director, writer and producer and we also get a long walk through a location with Kerry Armstrong as our guide. A very good extra though maybe a bit overlong.
We also get the usual assortment of trailers (a UK one and an international one) and a set of in-depth filmographies of the cast and crew… The image quality of the extras is acceptable though not outstanding with all of them getting a full-screen transfer despite the behind the scenes being filmed in a widescreen format.
Conclusions:Lantana is a very good meditation on love and its’ ups and (mostly) downs. The DVD release is rather good – the image and sound are quite good and the extras are thorough and well-thought out which makes this a recommendable release that offers more than the previous R1 release.