2001, Movie, R, 120 mins


Sixteen years after making his feature debut with the well-received BLISS, noted Australian commercial director Ray Lawrence returns with a psychological drama about the disintegration of marriage that's as densely textured as the plant that gives the film its name. The lantana camera is a tough, spiky, evergreen shrub with an unpleasant aroma yet small, beautiful flowers; whether that's a comment on marriage Australian-style, we can only guess. Volatile Sydney police detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) is sleepwalking through his marriage and his family. Brooding but not terribly introspective, he has two sons (Nicholas Cooper, Marc Dwyer) on the cusp of puberty, and a brittlely attractive, unregenerately flirty, middle-aged wife, Sonja (Kerry Armstrong). Leon has embarked on an almost utilitarian affair with the equally middle-aged Jane O'May (Rachael Blake), who's estranged from her husband, Pete (Australian comic Glenn Robbins). Leon also finds himself taking a too-personal interest in the investigation of a missing psychiatrist and author, Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey). Leon's interest intensifies when he discovers Somers was his own wife's shrink — and he's not unwilling to pull Sonja's files to see what she thinks of him. At this point the movie shies away from becoming an erotic thriller, opting instead for a roundelay of repercussions involving the aforementioned characters, Somers's taunting patient Patrick (Peter Phelps), and Jane's neighbors, edgy young working-class parents Nik and Paula (Vince Colosimo, Daniella Farinacci). Jane and Sonja become acquainted at Salsa class, Nik anguishes over whether to tell Pete that Jane's having an affair, and it all comes to a head when the missing woman's shoe is found in a patch of lantana. Examining the costs and the very occasional benefits of secrets and lies within a family, this languid drama, adapted from screenwriter Andrew Bovell's play, Speaking in Tongues, consists very much of talking heads, often alone on screen, talking about — or more to the point, around — their feelings; Somers and her husband (Geoffrey Rush), whom she suspects of having a gay affair, speak in the too-polite tones of strangers afraid to offend each other. Adding to this sense of emotional isolation is the blue, gauzy sheen of the photography, the sticky light of a shame-filled morning-after. Thought-provoking but proceeding at a crawl, the film suffers from performances that are virtually all pitched to the same note of existential ennui — thank goodness, then, for Rush, who arrives like a wake-up blast of compressed air. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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