Death shrouds "Lantana". First shot: a corpse in a copse. Limbs splayed at grotesque rest, legs viciously scratched by the surrounding thorny fauna. A violent demise, inevitably. But who is she, and who dunnit?
Eventually, stocky Aussie cop Leon Zat (LaPaglia) must find out, but for now he's got his own pressing personal problems. He's cheating on his wife, beating up suspects, and facing up to his own mortality. Those chest pains he keeps having? Not good.
Zat is the hub off which a web of relationships spin. His missus (Armstrong) is in therapy, but her tortured psychiatrist (Hershey) is questioning the sexuality of her own frosty husband (Rush). Zat's mistress Jane (Blake), meanwhile, doesn't know what she wants, but it may just be Nik (Colosimo) – the happily married bloke next door. Who may know something about that corpse...
Confusing/contrived/gimmicky? On paper only. For writer Andrew Bovell creates such nuanced, delicate, believable characters that the narrative coincidences are never questionable. And while, yes, "Lantana" is concerned with the human condition, its murder mystery provides an unpretentious hook off which hang the equally gripping character tensions.
Lean, hard and ruthless, the movie is flab-free– a stripped down, tough younger brother to Paul Thomas Anderson's glorious "Magnolia" (another multi-stranded, flower-named flick).
The ambient jazz noodlings of Paul Kelly earth the atmospherics, Mandy Walker's washed-out cinematography impresses, but, standing out in a mass of strong performances coaxed by director Ray Lawrence, LaPaglia makes the picture.
A familiar supporting face in US movies ("Summer of Sam", "Sweet and Lowdown"), it's surprising to find he's Australian, straight shocking to find he's this good. Pitiful, charismatic, broken and strong, Zat's a complex, contradictory creation brought to life with heart-shredding authenticity. There are tens of reasons to watch "Lantana", but if his acting was the only one, it would still be essential viewing.