August 29, 2003

This is Not an Affair, It's a One-Night Stand...Except it Happened Twice


PCC is always wary about proclaiming a film to be the 'best' of anything. That's the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' job and look what a fine mess they've made of it lately (A Beautiful Mind, anyone?). That said, PCC is going to go out on a limb and say that Australian director Ray Lawrence's debut film from 2001, Lantana, is one of the best films PCC has seen in a long time. This is not the first time PCC has viewed Lawrence's film, but, like the proverbial fine wine, it only gets better with age. Anthony LaPaglia (currently the star of CBS' excellent show Without a Trace), Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey head an amazing ensemble cast in a story that is as tangled and prickly as the flowering Australian shrub of the title.

A simple plot summary is not only difficult to come up with, but is also a disservice to the richly layered script, adapted by Andrew Bovell from his play 'Speaking in Tongues'. On the most basic level, Lantana weaves together the stories of Leon (LaPaglia), a police detective in Sydney who's having an affair and Valerie (Hershey), a missing American psychiatrist living in Sydney with her husband, John (Rush). In addition to these principal players, throw in Leon's wife Sonya (Kerry Armstrong); his secret lover Jane (Rachel Blake) and Jane's neighbors (Vince Colosimo and Daniella Farinacci), who may or may not be involved in Valerie's disappearance. But Lawrence's film isn't just a mystery/thriller; far from it. Instead, it is a meditation on the circular nature of love- how we move from passion to betrayal, and often grief, and how we're all desperately trying to reconnect with that love we may have lost.


The primarily Australian cast, as well as the American Hershey, is superb. LaPaglia is the perfect match for the brooding, self-described 'numb' Leon. We know he has flaws and yet, while we don't want him to go unpunished, LaPaglia's perpetually downturned lips hiding beneath his hooked nose and his sad, dark eyes make us root for him, even as Leon makes choices that we know will hurt him in the end. Rush, a charismatic performer in most of his other film roles, is decidedly understated here, and it works to his advantage. There is hardly any emotion on his face, even when he's confronted with the fact that his wife has gone missing late at night from a deserted highway. Rush's John is the kind of man you can't decide whether to slap or hug, and would gladly do both if the situation permitted. Hershey, in contrast, is a wonderful emotional counterpart to her stone-faced husband. You can't help but feel for the woman as she tries to connect with John emotionally, and yet at the same time try to maintain the professional, intellectual distance she has perfected as a psychiatrist.

Overall, this film is for all of us who need more than a straight-forward dramatic romance, police procedural or mystery, because Lantana has a little bit of everything. And more.

Posted by jordan at August 29, 2003 9:43 PM