I always have a hard time connecting to these big ensemble pieces dealing with marital relationships. For example, I always thought "The Ice Storm" was missing something, and even parts of the mostly intriguing "Magnolia" seemed a little hackneyed. So coming out of Ray Lawrence's "Lantana", I wasn't in the least bit surprised to find myself completely unmoved.
Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) is a psychiatrist and author of a book about her daughter's death (entitled "Elanor"). One night, she disappears off of the main road. Detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia), whose wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) visits Dr. Somers regularly to talk about their relationship, is called in to investigate the case. The problem with that is thus: the main suspect is the neighbor of the woman he is having an affair with (Jane O'May, played by Rachael Blake). He constantly grills Dr. Somers' husband John Knox (Geoffrey Rush) to find out more about his wife's "emotional state". I think that is enough for me to say before I ruin some of the film's few surprises.
"Lantana" is undoubtedly a strongly acted film. Kerry Armstrong and Geoffrey Rush in particular, who for the most part are at the receiving end of the emotional blows, are solid. Barbara Hershey, Rachael Blake and Anthony LaPaglia also bring the film to a slightly higher level. The film is also well shot. The film's opening shots, first of a lantana bush then zooming in on a lifeless body, are eerie and almost haunting. However, although the cinematography of "Lantana" is well crafted, there are continuous long, lazy shots of this lantana bush that appear one too many times and push its symbolism way too much. That was a thorn in the side of crafty, although not all together innovative, cinematography.
The plotting of "Lantana" is, to be honest, complex and intricate. However, it is this intricacy that ultimately proves to be the film's downfall. It seems it would rather be content with weaving in and out of various relationships than letting us connect with any of them. We know how the relationships stack up, but we have no feeling for any of it. We are told how the characters feel about each other, but since the development of each one is so rushed, we can know nothing about the individuals. Yet, by the end, "Lantana" expects us to care deeply about each person, even those ones who have little significance in the big picture.
"Lantana" is a well controlled, almost masterfully handled film. Ray Lawrence knows exactly how he wants to get where he wants to go, but takes one too many shortcuts. I was involved with "Lantana", but was untouched by it; I walked out of the theater feeling cold. Films like this are often well done but are almost always forgetting one thing: that a relationship stems out of two individuals, the individuals cannot necessarily be defined by their relationships alone. In "Lantana", we do not get real human beings, instead merely shadows.