Lantana (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Lantana is a tough movie to describe. Imagine a film very much like Magnolia, a depressing character study about how relationships can deteriorate and how people change over time. The characters in Lantana are entwined in a very artificial web, their lives joined to a far greater degree than mere coincidence would allow. Now imagine that the movie actually has a plot, like a standard police mystery in which a detective tracks down a missing person.

Can a film be driven by both plot and character simultaneously? Yes, I guess so, if this film is any example, because it is quite successful in developing the emotional power of the story.


Rachel Blake is topless in a sex scene with Anthony LaPaglia, but they keep their chests so close together that nothing significant is visible.

Anthony LaPaglia plays the Aussie detective. LaPaglia is Australian, by the way, from Adelaide, a fact of which I was previously unaware. The detective has had a pretty good marriage, but one that has been deteriorating recently, because he himself has been deteriorating. He has let himself get obese, for example. LaPaglia has really gotten big, and that wasn't padding, because he appeared shirtless. I don't know if the weight was gained specifically for this movie, but it was integral to the character. The detective is also irritable for no reason, has withdrawn into himself, and is generally stressed out. He even went so far as to have a two-night stand with a lonely divorcee. When he is called upon to investigate the missing persons case, it turns out that the missing person is his wife's psychiatrist, and the key witness is the divorcee that the detective slept with. These connections lead to other connections, and the ensemble cast ends up being the sole population of a very small interrelated world.

Perhaps I should have compared this to The Sweet Hereafter rather than the other two films, because the mystery of the missing person in Lantana is really not important to the main themes of the film, any more than the reason for the bus's failure was really important to The Sweet Hereafter. It was the context of the story, and a source of additional mystery and atmosphere, but it wasn't the raison de etre. The important elements center around the effects of the psychiatrist's disappearance.

How does her disappearance affect her husband? Of course, he is a prime suspect in the possibility of foul play, just because the husband is almost always responsible in similar cases. The missing psychiatrist seemed to think that her husband was having a homosexual affair, and the detective determines that this might have something to do with her disappearance. If the husband is truly an innocent bystander, as he alleges, why did he hide some facts, and how will he learn to live with his grief?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by production Team

  • Behind the Scenes Footage

  • Production Commentary

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

How does it affect the detective who, because of the investigation, has access to his wife's private sessions with the missing shrink? Will he listen to them, even though there is no reason to do so, since his wife is not involved in the case? If he listens, will he find out that his wife is cheating on him, or perhaps that she thinks he's an asshole? Does he really want to know these secrets?

As the detective strips away the false leads and gets to the truth, he finds that almost everything is more innocent than it appears, and that the real mystery is why we human beings fail so often in our relationships, sometimes despite the fact that we are good people making our best effort.

The acting is so good in this film that the cast manages to convince us that we're watching real people doing real things, even though the interconnected plot threads could not be farther from plausible reality.  


Lantana (2001) won every major Australian award, is universally praised by the critics (Ebert 3 1/2, Berardinelli 3) and rated 8.2 at IMDB. It is what looks a lot like a mystery -- one girl is dead, and a woman is missing -- but is really a character driven drama about a group of people who end up interacting in many ways and on many levels. The story centers around Anthony LaPaglia, who is a police detective, married to Kerry Armstrong with two kids, and cheating with Rachael Blake, whom he met at a salsa dance class he was taking with his wife. Blake is newly separated, and is neighbors with Russell Dykstra and Daniella Farinacci, the happily married couple of the bunch. Armstrong is seeing a shrink, Barbara Hershey, trying to solve her worries about her relationship. Hershey's daughter is the murdered girl, and she has written a book to cope with the grief.

All of these characters, and more, are fully fleshed out, and when Hershey goes missing, the interactions become even more complex. This film could have been a complete bore, and it has enough characters that it could have been impossible to follow, but was crafted such that it is an easy watch, and i found myself caring about many of the characters. Rachael Blake has a brief nipple slip early in the film in bed with LaPaglia. The film might well appeal to you even if character driven drama is not your favorite entertainment, and the film is technically top-notch. B-

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: USA gross $4 million


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. Powerful emotional impact in a deceptively simple movie. (Tuna B-)

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