ninth symphony films - movie reviews

LANTANA (2001)

DIRECTOR  -  ray lawrence

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  suspense

LENGTH  -  121 minutes

RELEASED  -  14 december 2001

DISTRIBUTOR  -  lions gate films

OFFICIAL SITE  -  lantana

lantana - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from lantana at

buy the dvd from lantana at

psychiatrist valerie somers disappears one night; det. leon zat is called to investigate; his wife has been getting advice from somers.

lantana is named after a noxious, spiky weed common in australia.


picture from lantana

picture from lantana

picture from lantana


two out of four possible stars

Lantana is a strong story of human relationships and despair, but isnít always successful as a feature film. Its course is not always sure and the misdirection in storyline used by the writer, Andrew Bovell (Lantana is based on his play), does not always hold the audienceís attention. This is much more an intense character study than a true murder mystery, and because there is so much emphasis on the relationships between the characters, the film seems uneven and forgetful of its plot.

While it is much easier to simply ďplotĒ a film from start to finish (a technique often used in action films), creating one purely from character is usually much hard because the writer cannot rely on the CGI team to create stunning action sequences to cover up the lack of character development. In Lantana though, something very curious happens. Instead of allowing the film to develop naturally through character and make the plot a device on which to stand, rather than something by which to be controlled, the author throws caution to the wind and forgets completely that these two elements should be in sync during a film.

Something which might make it hard to view this film from beginning to end is the rather long set-up in the beginning. Though the credits sequence is a powerful one, when the movie moves on from simple character introductions, the audience is more than a few minutes into the film. The plot (what there is of it) and the development of character just donít mesh well here. Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that this movie is based on a play. Feature films and theater performed plays are two completely different beasts and if one wants to turn one into the other, certain changes have to be made. Itís just the nature of the two mediums to be poles apart from one another.

And accepting that first few minutes of titles are quite vivid, the rest film is not much of a visual feast, when it could easily be. The stark lighting (what there is of it) and intrusive camera work donít always seem as low profile as they should. To put it rather harshly, this film is an ugly looking one and does nothing to show its characters in a beautiful light. While the attitudes of the characters certainly donít warrant that type of treatment, the video camera look of the film does nothing to recommend it. It just makes the production look more unprofessional than it should.

One of the ancillary elements of the film, the soundtrack, is certainly something that is more intrusive than complimentary to the film. Though the soundtrack on its own is very unique, the sound of it does not match the tone or pace of the film and is more like an intruder than something which makes the film a fuller experience. Added to the stilted camera work, the non-human elements of this film are not of the highest quality. But given the filmís complete focus on character, perhaps those elements were not as high on the list of priorities for the filmmakers.

As the filmmakers have so obviously forgotten to make their film anything but a stage play with a camera, it is possible that the value of it comes solely from the performances. And given that the medium sized cast is composed of rather good actors, it seems that there is at least something redeeming about the film. Perhaps one should focus completely on the actors and their characters anyway when viewing this film. With a cast including Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, and Barbara Hershey all in quite complex roles with mountains of well-delivered dialogue it is, admittedly, not a hard task to bask in the enjoyment of their abilities.

The large supporting cast makes an indelible mark on a viewer as well, and across the board, the performances are topnotch. One cannot help but wonder what made the director want to bring this story to the screen if he was not going to commit himself to making the entire film a success, rather than just the performances. The characters are certainly interesting to watch and their downfalls are contained in final quarter which should easily grip any audience member by the shoulders for a hard shake. But the film is not a complete theatrical experience. It will not appeal to all audiences so the best viewers would probably be those in the ďart cinemaĒ world. This is not really an insult to the film, but just more of a hard fact.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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