Movie Recommendation- Lantana
The exhausting “tapestry-of-intersecting-bourgeois-lives” genre sometimes seems like it only continues to exist because its purveyors are in a game of one-upmanship to see who can include the most characters. The recent, tepid Answers to Nothing may be the current titleholder. There are two main things that set Ray Lawrence’s Lantana apart from the pack. First, it has relatively few characters compared to these other films. Second, it is Australian. That means it’s one of the few chances you’ll get to see Anthony LaPaglia performing in his native accent. LaPaglia has never truly gotten the recognition he deserves stateside but he’s phenomenal here. Also in the sturdy cast are Barbara Hershey and Geoffrey Rush. Though Lawrence’s camera is in unanchored and fluid, the story manages to remain grounded due to the conclusion of a central narrative thread. The film begins with the image of a woman’s dead body, tangled in and obscured by a lantana bush. The investigation into this woman and how she came to die brings the film’s second half together compellingly. But it’s because of that first image that we are able to figure out who she is before the characters do, which casts events in a sad and sickeningly ironic light. By the time the whole thing’s over, you may or may not be considering the idea of love in a darker and more complex way. But you definitely will have seen Anthony LaPaglia cry and that’s worth it on its own.
I saw this at the 2001 Denver International Film Festival, along with The Bank, another Austrailian film starring Anthony LaPaglia (not as strong of a film, but it was an interesting contrast in performaces). These two were my first real exposure to him, so latter it always sounded strange to hear him with the American accent.
I haven’t rewatched Lantana in the decade since, but a lot of pieces of it, particularly the opening imagry and the relationship between Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey, stick with me to this day. It may be about time to revisit.