Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for language, adult situations
Run Time: 2 hours
I yearn for solid psychological thrillers, a rare cinematic breed in these bucks-as-bottom-line times. When a thriller speaks volumes about love, loneliness, and betrayal, count me in.
Lantana: a spiky, dense, flowering weed that grows unchecked in parts of Australia. Lovely on the surface, thorny below, and heavily symbolic of the tense, unbridled thicket of suspicion and doubt that forms a nature-to-human bond that’s marvelously effective. The humans in question, four married couples, maintain an energy fairly humming with anxiety while establishing a snappy, six-degrees-of-separation ensemble. Detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia), our “hero”, is a cop on the edge – numb with the pain of a stale marriage and seeking an element of feeling elsewhere. His wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) senses Leon’s unfaithfulness and is engaged in counseling with Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), a successful psychiatrist who’s plagued with grief over the premature death of her child and harboring paranoid suspicions that one of her clients if having an affair with her estranged husband (Geoffrey Rush).
Leon’s lover Jane (Rachael Blake) is dealing with emotions of her own, having inexplicably left her loving husband in search of someone or something better. That someone could be neighbor Nik Daniels (Vince Colosimo), who struggles to make ends meet with wife Paula, but seems fundamentally happy with his growing family.
The power of insinuation is an effective narrative tool, and it’s used to excellent effect when one of the players mysteriously disappears. Suspicion? Motives? Moments of disquieting suspense? Check, check, and check. Naturally, secrets and lies pepper Zat’s disquieting investigation, giving way to unsettling truths. “Lantana” never veers off its course, but its path twists and turns with a frantic glee reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s noirish “Magnolia”.
LaPaglia (who always rings my bell) gets back to his Australian roots, shunning his trademark Brooklyn schlumpiness in favor of an edgy, suppressed, Down Under rage. Blake is captivating, as is Armstrong, both women looking to one man with a yearning they can’t define. Hershey is a weak link, overplaying her grief with a strident edge and unsuitable histrionics. Pace is measured and well modulated, relentlessly flirting with the next potential “moment”. Beautifully crafted and smartly scripted – give me more, more, more.