We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"Lantana" opens with a camera tracking through dense Australian shrubbery to discover the limbs of a dead woman. We are reminded of the opening of "Blue Velvet," which pushed into lawn grass to suggest dark places hidden just out of view. Much of the movie will concern the identity of the dead woman, and how she died, but when the mystery is solved, it turns out to be less an answer than a catalyst--the event that caused several lives to interlock.
Ray Lawrence's film is like Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" or Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" in the way it shows the lives of strangers joined by unsuspected connections. It discovers a web of emotional hope and betrayal. At its center is a cop named Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) in the process of meltdown; he is cheating on his wife, he has chest pains, he beats a suspect beyond any need or reason, he is ferocious with his son, he collides with a man while jogging and explodes in anger.
Leon's wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong), worried about him, is seeing a psychiatrist named Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey). Valerie is married to John Knox (Geoffrey Rush). A few years ago their daughter was killed. Valerie wrote a book as a way of dealing with the experience. John hides behind a stolid front. One of her clients (Peter Phelps) is a gay man who wants to talk about his married lover, and Valerie comes to suspect that the lover is, in fact, her own husband.
Other characters. Jane (Rachael Blake) is the separated housewife who is cheating with Leon. Her neighbors are the happily married Nik and Paula D'Amato (Vince Colosimo and Daniela Farinacci). When Valerie's car is found abandoned and she is missing, murder is feared, and Leon is assigned to the case. He suspects her husband John, and there is another suspect--Nik, the father of three, seen throwing a woman's shoe into the underbrush by Jane. When Leon arrives to question Jane, it is significant, of course, that they were lovers.