Lantana (2001)
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Review Date: December 22, 2001
Director: Ray Lawrence
Writer: Andrew Bovell
Producers: Jan Chapman
Anthony LaPaglia as Leon Zat
Geoffrey Rush as John Knox
Barbara Hershey as Dr. Valerie Somers
A murder investigation involving a dead psychiatrist brings to light various secrets and lies surrounding four married couples, each of whom are dealing with their own issues at the same time. Trust, infidelity, truth and love all come into play, as the circumstances behind the woman's death are ultimately uncovered.
Appearances can be deceiving. That message can be applied to this film and its title, both of which seemed lame to me before I watched it, and also, to a lot of what happens in this film, much of which plays with that same idea. It's funny because people lie every day. Sometimes they're small white lies, and other times, they're major falsehoods inspired to fleece another of something dear, but the bottom line is...everybody lies. Many times, the thing that separates the lies from the truth, is a little thing called trust. Trust is usually the most important aspect of any long-term relationship, and trust is the crux of what keeps people from believing in one another (even when perception makes it look otherwise). But when a sudden break in trust occurs (and I can personally relate to this), the ability to heal that bond, to re-attach that feeling of closeness, becomes a greater task. In fact, suddenly words don't mean as much as actions do. If your husband says that he's coming home late because he's working, you don't believe those words as much as you used to. When a neighbor is seen throwing a woman's shoe into the woods, you tend to see the worst in that action, rather than the explanation which he may have to offer. Perception, appearances, communication, the ability to prove oneself, suddenly become more important than the spoken word. Well, this movie plays with all of that and slaps a decent murder mystery in there as well, along with great character performances, several well-rounded relationship stories, some decent insight into marriage and cheating and the great strength that lies in forgiveness. All relationships are difficult to manage. They don't work unless both parties are working together to make it succeed and when one of the two, begins to shut the other one out, the disintegration of the partnership is set into motion. How long before the relationship dies? Can it ever be salvaged? Questions that cannot be answered with a simple response, other than to say...love and trust are two elements which must be combined on both sides, if the relationship is to survive.

But before Dr. Phil from the Oprah Winfrey show comes barging into my little hole here, allow me to move away from my two-bit analysis of this piece and break down its successful cinematic elements. Now even though this film's got a lame-ass title, it can only be described as a terrific, multi-layered, character-driven story, which despite starting off methodically slow, ultimately leads to a greater satisfaction. I used to get bored with films like this, believing them to be pretentious and nothing else (granted, many of them still are...damn arthouse!), but some of them are genuinely built on the idea of getting to know the characters first, so that you eventually get caught up in their world once things start to roll. And the second half of this movie does just that. Once the murder investigation gets going, and the intertwining characters and stories overlap and affect one another, you can't help but get further drawn into its intriguing maze, one which involves many rich characters, all of whom are developed as separate personalities and a good deal of depth. And the actors? Well, another big surprise in this movie was the acting abilities of one Anthony LaPaglia. Geez, who would have guessed that this dude could star in a movie and pull it off, but he does so here, and in a very convincing manner (although his Australian accent did seem to come and go a little too often). The rest of the cast is also rock-solid, all of which add up to a great ensemble picture, in the tradition of Robert Altman's best.

This film is definitely an adult movie, one which offers more stimuli to those dramatically inclined and of mature sensibilities, but that certainly doesn't qualify it as a bore. Granted, many of the coincidental cross-paths of the characters in this film were completely unbelievable, but I think that was much of its point. A lot like MAGNOLIA, I saw some of this as a fable, as much as a lesson in life. It's a small world, karma, what goes around comes around and luck all come into play here, and if you look back at much of your life, each of those elements will have touched you at one time or another. This movie moves slowly, it's not for all audiences but I think that it will likely strike a good nerve with you if you're a sucker for character-driven relationship dramas featuring a solid acting group and themes of love, infidelity, trust and forgiveness. I also appreciated one character's take on infidelity about which she said that if her husband were to have an affair, the real betrayal would be in not telling her about it. Interesting way of looking at it.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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