Whether or not this wizard from Oz intentionally takes its lead from other interweaving character studies, I don’t quite know.
Coming after similar ensemble story movies, Andrew Bovell’s 1996 play on which it’s based came some time before, so this is certainly no Aussie replica.
The meeting of multiple stories has been done, often very well, closest cousins being Short Cuts and Magnolia.
Lantana, the flowering plant does look quite like Magnolia at least, but where Paul Thomas Anderson dynamically spun the connected threads in more visually mesmerising fashion, Lantana, the film, is dis-similar in many ways.
Lantana mesmerises equally though, plotting its convoluted path in such understated and believable ways that brings about a connection to everyone without flair, conjecture or ambiguity. With Bovell adapting his own story for the screen and direction from Ray Lawrence, authentic storytelling and character acting is allowed to blossom.
It studies the complexities of trust, love and loss in front of a developing backdrop of mystery at the disappearance of a local woman, immediately ushered in on an opening scene that pans across a forlorn dead body, through a host of flowering Lantanas. Whose body it is remains unrevealed until mid-way when the tightly woven threads of infidelity and guilt loosen far reaching consequences.
The murder mystery of who and why seems secondary to the significance of who has done what to who and how in a tale of loyalty and the complex affairs of the heart when love isn’t enough anymore for four couples at different times and places in there initially divergent lives.
A series of everyday compelling events bring them all together towards tragic consequences for some, a repaying of trust for others and redemption and forgiveness for others.
How all this gathers is near plotting and scripting perfection; a tight, methodical script fully aware of its intentions grasps the attention throughout.
Superbly acted throughout, the central hub for all the related stories is investigating Detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) whose affair with fellow Latin dance classmate Jane (Rachel Blake) makes the first link when wife, Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) is also in the same class.
LaPaglia is superb, his performance as much as a surprise in the fact he is actually Australian (I never knew); His portrayal of the fallible, bludgeoning detective displays incompetence and misjudgement when disloyalty brings unnecessary risks. Support from Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey is exceptional whose damaging grief is truly tragic.
It may lack the gloss and recognition of its American cousins, but Lantana is yet another superb entry from Australian cinema that displays all the trademarks of high crafted subtlety and realism.
The end doesn’t quite deliver the mystery it builds to, it’s something as completely unfortunate and simplistic as you could expect. Truth being, it doesn’t need a payoff or revelatory crescendo, Lantana’s most dramatic threads have already been weaved in and out.
Undoubtedly, a great and powerful offering from Oz.
Part Two coming soon – Animal Kingdom