Published Dec 01, 2001Although "Lantana" isn't technically a thriller, it constantly waxes in that direction. There's the ominous opening shot of a woman's corpse (the lurking camera discovers her at the bottom of a dense, tangled shrub), and there's a murder investigation in the last two-thirds of the film, but these details get absorbed into what is essentially a dark, brooding psychological study of the frailties of middle age.
Anthony LaPaglia (a native Australian, finally using real accent) plays Leon, a police detective who has just begun an affair with a plain, but available woman who attends Latin dance classes with he and his wife (played by Kerry Armstrong). Leon is more than just emotionally distant, he's numb right down to his bones, and he can't even muster up any passion for his extra-marital dalliance ("This isn't an affair. It's a one-night stand, except it happened twice.") Meanwhile, the story begins to explore the parallel lives of his wife (who puts up a brave, smiling face, but is surreptitiously dying inside), her psychologist (the grieving mother of a murdered daughter), as well as Leon's sad-sack mistress (played by Rachael Blake).
"Lantana" is another example of what I clumsily call the "criss-crossing narrative microcosm". Movies like "Short Cuts," "Playing By Heart," "Happiness," and "Magnolia" (believe me, I could go on) all try to sum up an aspect of human experience by presenting an interconnected cross-section of humanity. It seems to be the only truly millennial genre it strives to assuage our postmodern angst by covering all of the bases of our psychological hang-ups at once. If "Magnolia" reached a sort of jittery critical mass in this respect, then movies like "Lantana" and especially the upcoming "13 Conversations About One Thing" exist in its calm aftermath. They quietly ponder the plight of characters that have lost the ability to grieve or experience happiness or even trust another human being.