Released 2001. Director: Ray Lawrence
UNDERNEATH A THICK LANTANA SHRUB, a shoe is found, one belonging to a missing woman, now assumed murdered. The entrancing whodunit mystery only starts to unfold more than halfway into the movie. By which time we have been introduced to eleven principal characters, a build-up of inter-connected lives in a corner of suburbia Sydney. There's the detective, his wife, the woman he had an affair with, her husband, the couple next door, the detective's partner, the wife's psychiatrist, her husband, and a client of hers.
When one of them disappears one night, the inexplicable ties that bind them tightens the stranglehold and their seemingly disconnected stories mesh into one.
It might seem like an overly ambitious project to make so many consequential parts work as a singular, encompassing and complete narrative. Indeed, in lesser hands a story as complicated and delicate as Lantana would have wilted and shrivelled. However, the collective talents and sheer cinematic skills of Lantana's cast and crew have paid off beautifully, making this a spellbinding experience.
The multifaceted screenplay is adapted by Andrew Bovell from his stage play "Speaking in Tongues". Intelligently written, it is sparse and crystalline sharp, a succinct display of crisp verbal power from economically chosen words. With director Ray Lawrence's astute vision on contemporary urban relationships, presented with a keen visual sense, the many-sided yet tightly focused story is finely tuned. Lawrence's pacing is slow but meticulous and no less imperative.
Fused with rage and regret, Anthony LaPaglia's role as the brooding detective facing his domestic strife is the film's emotional anchor. Kerry Armstrong's fragility in the presence of her cheating husband is almost heartbreaking. And Geoffrey Rush the grievous father is low ley and subdued in a superb manner, giving his wife Barbra Hershey breathing room to find expression for her anxiety and insecurity. The rest of the cast - Rachael Blake, Leah Purcell, Peter Phelps, Vince Colosimo, Daniela Farinacci, Glenn Robbins - flesh out Bovell's fascinating characters in a quietly powerful assembly.
Their domestic tangles and fractured marriages reverberate with the politics of love and commitment. Trust, suspicion, fidelity, the checkpoints most couples go through at one time or another, interweave in their scrambled web of crises. Poignant, moving, heartening.