Cinema Signal:

. "Lantana"

This is a mystery thriller cum social drama photographed and set in Sydney, Australia, that breaks new ground in exposing much about the complexities and flaws of the human condition. It employs a style that is as close as a film can get to the novel form without destroying its cinematic powers. In a story that seethes with emotion, we are presented a group of people who show us faithlessness, betrayal, sexual adventurism, game playing, loneliness, dysfunction, need and more. And if involvement is the key to drama, it catches us by the throat, and not only doesn't let go, it's grip grows as the story unwinds.

The essential personnae starts with officer Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia in a breakthrough performance), a detective whose main concern at the moment is his extra-marital affair with Jane O'May (Rachael Blake) who is separated from her husband and so turned on by her one-night-stand with Leon that she hungers for more, which is more than he wants. But, he's in this position because he's doubting his love for his wife (an exquisite Kerry Armstrong). He has no doubts, though, about his love for his two sons which is reason enough for a very conflicted time in his life in which he has much to work out.

He's not the only one here who is trying to work things out and a few of them, including his wife, is seeing therapist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) who is herself experiencing strained relations with husband John (Geoffrey Rush), a law professor of high calibre. There is also Jane's neighbors, Paula and Nik D'Amato (Daniella Farinacci and Vince Colosimo) who she's friendly with and, in the absence of Leon, the man she really wants, fantasizes an affair with Nik, inviting him over for coffee when Paula's at work, making the first move on him.

As though this were all, but these are only the main characters and primary plot lines. And, as the people plod along facing their desires, betraying partners, satisfying needs, they interact in unexpected and fascinating ways. In fact, it's only we as the audience that has the complete picture, watching parts of one story overlap and influence those of another. The relationships and directions are kept clear and unhastened by Director Ray Lawrence who occasionally strays into overly expressed emotions but whose exceptionally keen sensibilities are woven throughout his cast's outstanding performances. There is such a high level of behavioral understanding here that it becomes a style of dynamic force.

The style is also in the writing by Andrew Bovell from his play ("Speaking in Tongues") as the plot line becomes layered with increasing tension and meaning. One of the marks of great drama is the change made by the circumstances of the story in the principle character. How this is accomplished here is simply stunning. When Leon finally allows himself to learn if his wife still loves him, at a moment when he finally realizes what it would mean to him, he cries, and we feel the profundity of the emotion with him. This moment, for LaPaglia, is an amazing one that can well bring him up those stairs to that oscar lecturn.

"Lantana" is saturated with achievement and that certainly includes all the crafts involved, including fine cinematography by Mandy Walker and original music by Paul Kelly (III). It has a style so subtle you aren't aware of how deeply you're being sucked into the lives of these people until one of their lives is threatened and, by the time that happens, you're so involved with the people your interest level is close to breathless. Director Ray Lawrence's use of silences and extended reactions often makes it seem like his people are operating in the world as we know it. That's more than can be said about many another drama.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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