Hollywood isn't the only film community that hands out movie awards. Our friends in the Australian Film Institute recently gave 7 Aussie Oscars (Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay) to "Lantana", a movie based on the play "Speaking in Tongues". Boutique studio Lions Gate, quickly becoming an influential presence on the distributor scene, released "Lantana" in the U.S. during fall of 2001. The movie received glowing reviews and even made a couple of critics' Top 10 lists. Now, the DVD edition of "Lantana" has arrived, and I gave it a spin.
"Lantana" observes the lives of several Australian individuals who are all connected to one another somehow. Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) and Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) Zat's marriage is falling apart. Leon copes with his mid-life crisis by having an affair with Jane (Rachael Blake), a woman who attends the same dance class as Sonja does. Jane, separated from her husband (though not divorced), observes Nik and Paula, her happily married neighbors with 3 kids, with quiet jealousy. Meanwhile, Sonja visits psychiatrist Valerie (Barbara Hershey) Somers for help.
Valerie is married to John Knox (Geoffrey Rush), a dean of law. Their young daughter was killed a few years ago, and Valerie wrote and published a book about the incident in order to deal with her anguish. However, John has simply shut off his emotions. Valerie finds trouble at work when she handles a client who's a gay man having an affair with a married man.
Halfway through the movie, one of the women disappears, leading to a murder investigation headed by Leon, who's a policeman. Once he begins to piece together all the clues, Leon encounters all the secrets that each of the film's characters have been hiding from one another.
Lions Gate has marketed "Lantana" as a thriller and as a murder to draw the public's attention to the film. I don't blame the studio, for it needs to recoup its investment. However, the script only uses the mechanisms of a thriller without actually becoming one. The disappearance of one of the main characters functions as a catalyst that forces the other characters to re-examine their lives.
"Lantana" will remind many viewers of films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights", "Magnolia") or Robert Altman ("Short Cuts", "Gosford Park") because those directors like sprawling stories that examine the way disparate individuals affect each other in the grand scheme of the universe. However, Ray Lawrence (the director of "Lantana") does a better job than Anderson or Altman ever could because he restricts the film's running time to a comfortable 2 hours and refuses to indulge in divergent subplots that ultimately mean little to the "final vision". Like Altman's "Gosford Park", "Lantana" features a death that takes place about an hour into the running time, but Lawrence doesn't fuss with little details. He finds central controlling ideas and sticks to them.
After watching "Lantana", I was not surprised that the film had swept the acting categories at the Australian Film Institute Awards, even if I do not know who the other nominees were. The cast does a great job of imploding, exploding, and expressing pain in its infinite varieties. Anthony LaPaglia uses his considerable physical presence to rage across the screen, while Geoffrey Rush uses his slight build to suggest someone who has shrunk to a shadow of his former self. Like most Americans, I'm less familiar with the female members of the cast, but they are as impressive as their male counterparts.
The "Lantana" DVD boasts a strong transfer. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video image looks vibrantly true-to-life, and panoramic long shots of Australian scenery appear fairly three-dimensional. However, there were a few times when I noticed cuts/scratches on the print, and film grain is rampant during "filler" shots that were probably done by the second unit. Overall, this is an excellent but imperfect transfer.
The sound design employs the fairly heavy use of high-volume music. A "tangy" music score gives the movie a "dance-y" (sometimes jumpy) atmosphere, while scenes set in a Latin-dance class (as well as a dance club) give your subwoofer an energetic workout. For the most part, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English mix sends everything to the front speakers, but the rear speakers sparkle a few times with environmental sounds during outdoors scenes.
English and Spanish subtitles (as well as English closed captions) support the audio.
The 25-minute "The Nature of ‘Lantana'" making-of featurette is an above-average piece featuring interviews with key members of the cast and crew. Everyone speaks candidly about their response to the material as a play and as a script. While the filmmakers do compliment each other, they don't just praise the others to high heaven as if everyone were a film god. However, since "Lantana" offers a fairly straight-forward story once it explains its plot points, you might feel that the comments in the featurette are rather self-explanatory. Also, the audio was recorded "live" off of microphones attached to the interviewees' shirts, so you'll have to strain your ears to catch what everyone is saying.
Aside from the making-of featurette, you'll also find the film's theatrical trailer as well as commercials for other Lions Gate releases (accessible by clicking on the Lions Gate logo on the main menu).
Chapter listings appear on the DVD keepcase's back cover art per Lions Gate's customary practice.
The "Lantana" DVD sure looks and sounds great, but people casually browsing the aisles at the local store might be wondering if the disc is a worthwhile purchase given the lack of extras. I think that the script offers sharply drawn characters, and the superb cast certainly elevates material that will appear a bit transparent once the movie ends. However, given its willingness to refuse its characters happy endings, I enthusiastically recommend "Lantana" for its mature, thoughtful, and realistic approach to the trials of adult life.