Tuesday, November 27, 2007
THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007) - Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers who you either get or you don’t. Since his debut feature, Bottle Rocket, released in 1996, Anderson has continued to divide audience opinion of his films. The Royal Tenenbaums, released in 2001 came the closest to uniting opinions on Anderson’s work. His style is absolutely unique, and because of this, some people just don’t get the type of humour that permeate his films. The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson’s fifth feature. Once again, it has some of the trademark Wes Anderson touches and themes. But it’s also one step further in Anderson’s maturity as a filmmaker.
The Darjeeling Limited once unites Anderson with his five-time collaborator, Owen Wilson who plays Francis Whitman, the eldest of three estranged brothers. He puts out a call to his two brothers, Peter and Jack to join him on a train journey across India. His brothers arrive to find Francis’ face has suffered quite a few injuries. What the source of these injuries are, Francis is hazy with the details. Peter, who’s wife is pregnant with his son, cannot get over the death of his father, one year previous. Jack is wary of this reunion with his brothers, and has a ticket to Italy ready for him to leave when he’s had enough. He’s also obsessed with his ex-girlfriend and constantly wants to check her answering machine.
Francis struggles to keep his brothers together, and while he has invited them to India in order for them to reconnect as a family, he has ulterior motives that he keeps to himself.
In a move that is new to Anderson, he presents the audience with a short film that precedes The Darjeeling Limited. Hotel Chevalier stars Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman, who plays Jack Whitman in both films. As I watched Chevalier, I was somewhat concerned at the lack of laughs to be found within. It was only as The Darjeeling Limited unfolded that the full effect of Chevalier could be appreciated. It’s an excellent move by Anderson and sets up not only the Jack character, but also the tone of The Darjeeling Limited, and some excellent jokes that pay off later in the film. The Darjeeling Limited is after all, a comedy, and while the short is intentionally far less funny than the feature, the feature itself has some excellent and hilarious moments.
Anderson’s humour has always been, and I hate to use this word, quirky. His characters seem to inhabit some sort of parallel universe, where everything you see is familiar, but there is just a different feel to everything. The elements that add to this tone, as seen in his previous films, are present here, but this time Anderson has made his characters a little more grounded in reality. And this works very well. The one thing that remains unchanged, and has so since Bottle Rocket, is the theme of family and belonging. In each of his films, Anderson has created characters that are struggling to find their place in this world. And here, we have three distinct and well written characters that are each struggling with this need in their own ways. While Francis’ objective of having the brothers find themselves is somewhat contrived and ill thought out, once the brothers allow themselves to adapt to what is happening to them, rather than trying to maintain control, they do find what they’re trying to achieve.
Wes Anderson’s direction is once again top notch. Even more so than his previous films. Almost everything on screen is meticulously thought out and executed, down to the soundtrack, which again, is perfect. There are some of the old stalwarts present once again, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. But Anderson also employs music from the Satyajit Ray films, and the music fits the images perfectly. The cast, as always in these films are on top form. Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, who have both worked with Anderson, seem right at home with their roles. And Adrien Brody, who plays Peter, is also a brilliant addition to the long list of Anderson collaborators. Even Bill Murray gets in on the act once again, in a tiny, but brilliantly funny (thanks to Murray’s ability to perfectly capture world weary ennui) dialogue-free cameo. Natalie Portman pops up in Hotel Chevalier in a small, but pivotal role and Anjelica Huston also returns to working with Anderson in an equally pivotal cameo.
As I’ve mentioned before, Anderson’s films are pretty much a matter of taste. Personally, I’m a big fan of all his films. I was slightly disappointed in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou after The Royal Tenenbaums, but The Darjeeling Limited once again shows that Wes Anderson is the master of this type of American quirky indie film making. It’s a beautiful film in every way, and one that will stay with you long after you see it.