Review: “Lantana”

The Aussie film scoring a ton of awards is most certainly an adult-oriented flick in terms of story, in fact not many people under the age of 30 will probably guess what all the fuss is about and think it rather dull (I must admit after all the hype I myself was pretty underwhelmed).

“Lantana” is a pure art house movie – a complex character study in the vein of Robert Altman but without the humour. Its a true ensemble piece that looks at a group of people all joined together – some closely, others merely by chance but in every case none have a successful love life which is what makes this work.

Pretty much every permutation from the adulterer, to a relationship that may as well be dead, to a person fixated on another in a marriage, to one who works so much they’ve no time for relationships (the one I sympathise with!!!) are all here and all played with a gritty sense of realism – love and sex isn’t glamorous or trivialised, its raw and takes a lot of work. Not since “Fatal Attraction” has their been a film like this about infidelity that’ll shock “strayers” back into their vows.

The performances are the key to this – LaPaglia has the most screen time and gives an excellent performance as the cheating cop, its a tough role as it requires him to be both macho & sensitive, whilst most difficult of all you have to sympathise with this guy even though he’s cheating. Armstrong just radiates as his wife – a beautiful and vulnerable woman who just wants to be loved and its refreshing to see dialogue in this where she admits she loves the lines on her face and her age.

The rest of the cast is just as solid from Blake as the flighty cheater, Robbins as her average likeable ex-husband, etc. Peter Phelps also does a surprisingly good turn as the somewhat psychological game playing gay patient of Hershey’s who is having an affair with a married man (who though you’ll have to wait to find out). Surprisingly its veteran actors Hershey and Rush who are the weakest links in this as a couple who’ve basically stopped loving each other long ago – both do solid work but are given the ‘coldest’ roles of the movie which is probably why they don’t get to display their usual great range.

Andrew Bovell’s tight albeit self-indulgent script doesn’t have much of a plot (the murder mystery angle is rather ‘eh’) but this is more a character study than anything else so be aware the pacing is quite slow, and indeed the first half of the film really drags before picking up towards the next half.

Ray Lawrence’s directing helps keeps things clear and well laid out but on a technical level it relies WAY too much on fade outs, and for a thriller there’s really only one suspensful sequence in the form of Blake hiding in a Lantana bush. The locations mean that aside from maybe 2-3 single shots giving away Sydney, this has the feeling that it could’ve been shot anywhere in Australia and the cinematography is drab gray which sort of suits the film’s tone.

This is not a happy film by any means, but it is a quite raw and emotional story about love – there are characters some will be able to sympathise with, others you’ll loathe and while it may be on the slow side its still a much more grown up and real ‘Aussie’ film than the over-the-top comedies we’ve been known for in recent years.