An unknown woman's shoe is found in a lantana bush by Jane, who is hiding from her neighbors in the bush after seeing Nik, the husband of her neighbor (Paula) throw something into the bushes. Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), a police officer, and Jane (Rachael Blake) have sex in a motel room. They part ways, and we see that Leon and his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) attend Latin dance classes that the recently-separated Jane is also taking. Leon does not enjoy the classes, and is seen savagely beating a drug dealer during a bust. He has emotional issues, but won't confront or admit to them. Sonja sees a therapist, Valerie (Barbara Hershey) who has just published a book on her own daughter's murder 18 months ago. She and her husband, John, (Geoffrey Rush) are barely on speaking terms; he later refers to their marriage as held together by their grief. She feels threatened by another patient of hers, Patrick Phelan, who is having an affair with a married man and is forcing Valerie to confront her own issues in her marriage to John.
Hoping to see Leon again, Jane purposely bumps into him outside the police station, and they have sex again, despite Leon's reservations about taking it any further. Her next door neighbour, Nik, is upset that she is seeing someone because he is friends with her estranged husband Pete, who wants to return home. Jane pairs up with Sonja in the next salsa class, which angers Leon; he ends their arrangement, which upsets Jane. She invites Nik over for coffee at the behest of his wife, Paula, with whom she is friendly, and offers him money as they are struggling. Paula starts to dislike Jane because of it.
Valerie is coming home late one night and drives off the road. She is stranded, and makes several calls to John, who does not answer. Finally, she is seen approaching a car coming along the road, but never makes it home. Leon is the investigating detective on the case, and looks into her office and notes. Surprised at seeing his wife's name and file, he takes an audio recording of their sessions.
Leon arrives home late but Sonja is not asleep: he asks her about her therapy sessions with Valerie, they discuss their relationship and he tells her of his affair which had just ended, but that he still loves her. Sonja is very upset and feels betrayed. Leon sleeps on the couch, in the morning Sonja says he'll be lucky if she returns home that night. Leon goes to John's house to interrogate him as the main suspect in his wife's disappearance. Leon starts a discussion about love, marriage and having affairs but lies to John when asked if he ever had an affair. Leon goes to Jane's house on police duty, because she has placed a call. Her neighbours are Paula (Daniella Farinacci), a nurse, and Nik (Vince Colosimo). Jane was up late one night, watching Nik arrive home and throw something in the bushes across the road from her house: later she finds it is a woman's shoe. Leon and his partner arrive at Jane's and declare that the shoe was Valerie's.
The police take Nik to the station and he leaves his children with Jane. Police call Paula to come in from her work. Neither Nik nor Paula knows that Jane made the police call. Although Paula does not like Jane, she calls her to thank her for minding their children. The police interrogate Nik but he refuses to answer questions about Valerie, repeatedly asking to see Paula. After seeing his wife, Nik calms down and talks with Leon and his partner. Valerie had car trouble and Nik was driving past; he agreed to give her a lift to her home but she panicked when he took a back road short cut and she jumped out of his truck. Valerie had run off leaving behind her shoe. Paula goes to Jane's house to get her children, where she tells her that Nik is innocent of Valerie's disappearance. Jane asks how she knows that, and Paula simply replies that he told her. Jane asks if she can spend more time with the kids, but Paula forbids it, after seeing how Jane went over into her house and tidied it. Leon, his partner, Nik, and John go to the place where Valerie jumped out of the truck. They find her body where she had accidentally fallen down a ravine. Leon listens to the rest of the therapy tape where his wife had said that she still loved him and he bursts into tears.
Leon returns home and sees his wife outside. Jane salsa dances alone, drinking and smoking, while Pete leaves her. Patrick is pained to see his lover happily spending time with his wife and kids. Nik and Paula are seen happily spending time with their kids. The movie ends with Sonja and Leon dancing together seductively. Leon, who at the beginning of the film finds dancing with his wife difficult, now appears to be doing well. He looks Sonja directly in her eyes and dances just as she always wanted. Sonja struggles to initially return Leon's gaze but does so just before the movie ends.Anthony LaPaglia as Detective Leon Zat
Geoffrey Rush as John Knox
Barbara Hershey as Valerie Somers
Kerry Armstrong as Sonja Zat
Rachael Blake as Jane O'May
Vince Colosimo as Nik D'Amato
Russell Dykstra as Neil Toohey
Daniella Farinacci as Paula D'Amato
Peter Phelps as Patrick Phelan
Leah Purcell as Claudia Weis
Glenn Robbins as Pete O'May
Lantana opened on December 14, 2001 in North America in 6 theaters and grossed $66,701 with an average of $11,116 per theater and ranking #39 at the box office. Its widest release was 108 theaters and it ended up earning $4,623,189. The film earned $11,124,261 internationally (including $6,125,907 in Australia) for a total of $15,747,450.
Lantana received positive reviews from critics and has a 'certified fresh' score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 103 reviews with an average rating of 7.4 out of 10. The critical consensus states "Lantana is an intricately plotted character study that quietly shines with authenticity." The film also has a score of 84 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 29 critics indicating "universal acclaim".
Writer and critic Roger Ebert compared the film to Short Cuts and Magnolia in terms of how it developed the connections between the lives of strangers. It premiered in the UK on Channel 4 in December 2006. British critic Philip French described the film as a "thoughtful, gripping movie" based around the themes of "trust in its various forms, betrayal, forgiveness and grief".