A raw, powerful and well-acted mystery/drama, "Lantana" is an Australian indie which seemed like one of the few recent independent pictures to make a decent mark in recent box office, taking in nearly 5m and recieving good word-of-mouth. The picture earns praise for several elements; the acting is excellent, the cinematography and other technical aspects are top-notch and the writing - not only is the audience presented with fully-realized and enjoyable characters, but the film is able to clearly handle a couple of different genres - a murder mystery and a character drama.
The film opens with a camera creeping through a sea of tangled plants to reveal a dead body. What's different about this film is that, afterwards, we are lead through the lives of several characters for a while, as if the film has started upon something else completely. Only as the film proceeds further into the second half do we learn more - but it's nice that the film takes the time to really get into the lives of the characters (or potential suspects).
The film stars Anthony LaPaglia) as Australian cop Leon Zat. He is married to Sonja (Kerry Armstrong), but it quickly becomes clear that their marriage isn't what it once was. He lacks the passion and patience that she seeks, becoming more angry and emotionally distant as the film progresses. Furthermore, he's cheating on his wife, but not finding what it is he's seeking in the affair. Meanwhile, the woman that he is having an affair with, Jane (Rachael Blake), is trying to make things work with her own husband. Sonja is seeing psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), who is married to John Knox (Geoffrey Rush); both are still attempting to get past the tragic death of their daughter, which happened a few years prior. A client of hers (Peter Phelps) discusses his affair with a married man, who she suspects is her husband. When Valerie's car is found
The performances are uniformly terrific. All of the leads portray the hurt, guilt and repressed emotions that are required of their characters wonderfully, through both what is said and what isn't. When Valerie's car is abandoned and she is missing, Leon becomes the lead investigator on the case and several of the characters become suspects. While many of these kinds of pictures that offer several interlocking relationships often strain believability, I didn't find that here. Although the character connections seemed somewhat unlikely, I believed they could happen more than enough to suspend disbelief.
Some may be a bit dismayed with the deliberate pace of the picture and, admittedly, there were a few instances towards the middle where I would have liked the film to move a little quicker. Still, I found most of the film very involving. Overall, I liked "Lantana"; it offers great performances and operates well as a drama about relationships while throwing in a fair amount of mystery to pull the interest along.
VIDEO: "Lantana" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with "Monster's Ball", the "Lantana" presentation shows that Lion's Gate is steadily improving with the image quality of their presentations. While this particular transfer is a bit inconsistent at times, there's still a lot to like about it. Sharpness and detail are excellent; small details are clearly rendered, while the image maintains a consistent appearance.
The main flaw in the presentation is edge enhancement - while certainly not highly visible, a slight amount was noticed in a handful of scenes. The print used looked excellent, with hardly a speck or mark and no pixelation was spotted. Colors remained bright and vivid, while flesh tones were accurate and natural. An attractive presentation for an often quite beautifully filmed picture.
SOUND: "Lantana" is presented by Lion's Gate in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although clearly a front-heavy audio experience, there are still a fair amount of subtle touches to the soundtrack that bring it up a notch. Enough ambient sounds are provided to give a nice sense of space, while the music also comes through clearly and crisply. Surrounds are rarely used, but their occasional use is appropriate. Overall, a decent soundtrack although I didn't find it too remarkable, nor did it really exceed my expectations.
MENUS: The animated main menu makes slight, but enjoyable use of images from the film as a background.
There has been some confusion over what the "Lantana" DVD includes - some early review copies may have included a commentary track and possibly other features, but those did not make it onto the final copy for some reason. The features that do remain are: "The Nature of Lantana", a 25-minute "making of" documentary that provides an enjoyable view of how the production came together and the film's trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Lantana" is a solid drama - it offers strong performances, well-crafted characters and plot and enjoyable dialogue. It did have a few moments that started to slow up, but overall, I found it entertaining. The DVD edition offers very good audio/video quality, along with a decent supplement.