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A thicket of purple lantana blossoms fills up the screen, while a busy bee buzzes on by. As the camera zooms in and begins its slow descent, the chirping of the crickets become more noticeable, and the dense intertwining wooden shrubbery cast a gloomy pall to the surrounding. With the little light that does filter through the foliage, the camera pans around, and we are able to discern ever so slowly the lifeless body of a woman. Such is the opening scene of “Lantana”, a wonderfully layered film about the complexities of love and marriage, with the added bonus of an intriguing whodunit murder mystery.

“Lantana” focuses on two married couples, facing some of the most pressing issues any relationship has to deal with – trust and infidelity. Detective Leon Zat (Anthony Lapaglia) is having an affair with Jane (Rachael Blake), and is his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) suspects something. She is torn between denial and straightforward confrontation, so she secretly sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey). The sessions between the women become the initial link that leads into the other thread of narrative. Valerie is married to John (Geoffrey Rush). With years in a waning marriage, compounded by the loss of their only daughter, the two begin to evaluate their relationship. They say, “I love you”, but wonder if they’re still emotionally truthful in saying the words. Then, there are also supporting characters that add to “Lantana”’s colorful bouquet, including Jane’s separated husband and her neighbors who seem to have everything going well for them.

“Lantana” then shifts gears when Dr. Valerie Somers disappears without a trace. As if the complexities of marriage aren’t enough, they add a puzzling twist to the story. Was it her husband who decided it was finally enough? Was it Valerie’s easy way out of a rut? Was it a disgruntled client of hers? Or was there someone else?

Just like intertwining stems, these characters cross paths as they tread through the web of suspicion and deception.

The first half of the movie is a complex and insightful evaluation of marriage, with its many scenes of intimate discussions and heated exchanges. Raw emotions emanate from the screen as these characters question, regret and blame each other over their state of affairs. With a great screenplay, “Lantana” feels very authentic. The second half supplements the mysteries of marriage, by making it a mystery in a more physical sense. Valerie’s disappearance is a mere catalyst to the overall sense of deceit and secrecy. “Lantana” has a truly wonderful cast. Anchored by very strong performances as expected from Lapaglia, Hershey and Rush, it is the unfamiliar faces that stood out, namely Kerry Armstrong and Rachael Blake.

With an Altman-esque crisscross interaction and a Kieslowski-esque play on coincidences, “Lantana” is a great film, despite a late bloom in December. It is smarter than most murder mysteries and just as engrossing as any film about adultery. “Lantana” could have stuck with just one genre, but effectively combines both. Go ahead and take a whiff of “Lantana”.

Running time is 121 minutes. Film is Not Rated, but if I were to rate it, I’d give it an R rating for adult theme and sexuality.


RATING: 4 out of 5

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