Lantana

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Lantana

Adapted by director Ray Lawrence and screenwriter Andrew Bovell from Bovell's stage play, Lantana has a slow pace, a somber tone, and flat, merely functional dialogue, but beneath the stultifying sobriety lies a powerful premise and a plot as lovingly crafted as a family quilt. Anthony LaPaglia stars as an Australian police detective escaping his static marriage to Kerry Armstrong by having an affair with Rachael Blake, a woman from their Latin dance class. Blake is separated from her husband and living next door to amiable, jobless Vince Colosimo. A day after Blake sees Colosimo tossing a woman's shoe into a lantana bush, she hears about a missing-person case on TV and reports her neighbor to LaPaglia. Barbara Hershey plays the absent woman, a psychiatrist who's been helping Armstrong through her suspicions about LaPaglia's infidelity, and who—before her disappearance—suspected her lawyer husband (Geoffrey Rush) of having a fling with one of her male patients, prompted by lingering grief over the murder of their preteen daughter a year before. The filmmakers spend fully half of their two-hour run time establishing these characters and their complicated relationships, in quiet, atmospheric scenes that start off as engagingly portentous, but become more of a grind as Lawrence and Bovell continue to withhold the plot. Then Hershey disappears, and the players' connections and various deceptions become painfully evident. Almost everyone in Lantana knows a secret about someone else, and all the clandestine activity prompts presumptions, suspicions, and distrust. In a pulpier film, double-dealings on this grand a scale would lead to a climax of drawn guns and last-minute switcheroos, but Lantana builds to more homespun dramatics, as LaPaglia, Colosimo, and Rush each realize that their own weaknesses have put them in danger of losing the love and support of their wives. The penultimate big plot twists similarly emerge from the more common dark side of human nature: resentment and spite, rather than bloodlust. A splash of style and a punchier feel would have better served the deep emotions of Bovell's script, and a better title than Lantana might have suggested the latent richness of the story. If Mike Leigh hadn't already used it, the perfect name for this tough-but-profound mystery would be Secrets And Lies.

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