"Lantana" is a psychological thriller that draws together four couples whose lives become as thickly entwined as the lantana's vines...

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
~Sir Walter Scott, "Marmion"

Taking its name from a small, pink and white flowering vine that infests the roadsides of Australia, "Lantana" is a masterfully written and powerfully performed drama about human beings caught up in the tangled webs of deception.

Evoking the visual ambiance of David Lynch's "Lost Highway" and the tensions felt in Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock," "Lantana" is a psychological thriller that draws together four couples whose lives become as thickly entwined as the lantana's vines.

During the movie's opening credits the camera slowly moves through a thick tangle of these vines and finally comes to rest upon the nearly concealed body of a lifeless woman. Who she is or how she met her fate remains unrevealed throughout much of the drama.

By choosing to conceal the missing woman's identity, screenwriter Andrew Bovell establishes an underlying mood of tension and impending sense of doom that lurks beneath the surface as we increasingly become involved in the lives of the movie's featured players.

And what a cast director Aussie director Ray Lawrence ("Bliss") has pulled together for this psychological thriller.

Featured as a brooding hulk of a cop is Tony Award winning Anthony LaPaglia ("A View From the Bridge") who plays Leon Zat, a thuggish looking guy who's just as capable of exploding into violence as he is of suddenly becoming sensitive and convincingly tender.

LaPaglia's character is revealed though his relationship with his vulnerable wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong), his determined mistress Jane (Rachel Blake), and John (Academy Award winning Geoffrey Rush), husband to troubled psychologist Valerie (Barbara Hershey.)

Pivotal player Nik D'Amato (Vince Colosimo), a blue collar
neighbor, however, takes the film's spotlight away from them all when he becomes suspected of having something to do with the missing woman among the vines.

The most intriguing mystery, for lovers of character-driven films, is why so much unhappiness infests the lives of these lovers caught up in that time of life when relationships have settled in and security has become a code word for boredom.

Based on Andrew Bovell's play "Speaking in Tongues," which was running Off-Broadway at the same time the film opened in New York, Ray Lawrence has done a superb job of adapting, with Bovell, this moving drama to the screen.

This has been a year of remarkable ensemble performances, what with "Moulin Rouge," "Gosford Park," "The Royal Tenenbaums," and now "Lantana." And it has also been a remarkable year for the Aussies and their relatively near neighbors the Kiwis.

Bottoms up, Mates.