Film Reviews

The Darjeeling Limited Wes Anderson

Rating - 8/10

The Darjeeling Limited does not quite stand among Wes Anderson's best work, but it is a peculiar and beautiful movie. Anderson is one of the finest visual stylists of his generation, and even if familiarity with his set of formalist devices has dulled their novel thrill, his films remain aesthetically sound. After his promising but humble debut, Bottle Rocket, Anderson delivered two classics very early in his career with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. These films married obsessive and engrossing visual design with a keen ear for music and dialogue, expressed in a pitch perfect drollery flirting with mild surrealism, and an affecting sense of sadness and loss.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was Anderson's first misstep, and his first film not written with Owen Wilson (Anderson wrote The Life Aquatic with fellow writer-director Noah Baumbach). The Life Aquatic, like Spike Lee's She Hate Me or Larry Clark's Ken Park, was an unsuccessful film with all of its maker's trademarks that seemed to epitomize the flaws noted by his detractors. It illustrated just how fine Anderson's collaborations with Wilson were, as The Life Aquatic failed to achieve the same balance of melancholy and comedic fantasy, and ended up hollow. The Darjeeling Limited is an improvement over that effort, not reaching the perfection of the Wilson collaborations, but regaining a sure sense of fanciful style and humour buoying a story that is at heart deeply sad.

Solidifying his friendship with the talented benefactors of New Hollywood nepotism, Anderson wrote The Darjeeling Limited with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. Coppola also served as a second unit director, which may be his best talent, as his own CQ demonstrated him to be a visual talent labouring under the overbearing influence of directors his father liked. He may just be best suited to achieving other people's visions. After his definitive performance in Rushmore, some suspicion lingered that Schwartzman was merely adept at playing assholes because he most likely was one. Performing in films such as this and David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabee's, however, Schwartzman has emerged as a talented comic actor, particularly when playing assholes in Wes Anderson films (here he plays a writer, who, after reading a particularly heartless passage, expresses sincere, wounded gratitude after a brother compliments how mean he is). Their script is an achievement, as what begins looking like an overly precious plot peopled by unsympathetic characters talking funny and looking cool accumulates depth and pathos as it progresses.

Returning to themes of familial loss and disappointment, the ice cold affectations of three brothers are not all glorified ennui, but cultivated defences against slowly suggested issues of loss and hurt. Adrien Brody is a fine addition to the Anderson universe, capable of suggesting something like a soul beneath the prickliest of exteriors. Wilson appears as the sibling leading the others on an absurdly calculated and scheduled spiritual journey after an accident that has left his head wrapped in comical bandaging, the removal of which has unexpected gravity, lightly punctured by a punchline of understatement (it is difficult to watch this film, or to look at the themes running through his films with Anderson, without thinking of Wilson's recent real world troubles). As the brothers ride the titular train through India contriving anticlimactic spiritual experiences and bickering, the film flirts with relegating its land and the people who live there to mere set dressing, but it is ultimately more about characters who do just that. India, in any case, is a ripe setting for Anderson's style, lensed by Robert D. Yeomen to take full advantage of the colour, landscape and life that abound (Anderson pulls off some of his best jukebox tableaux here).

A common criticism of Anderson's work is that his characters are flat cartoons in a vacuum of precious props and design. For a little while, that nags at The Darjeeling Limited, as initially unsympathetic grown boys set off on an entirely unspontaneous journey. As plans are derailed, demons are confronted, and the past is illuminated, however, the film develops an unexpected resonance. With trademark humour, The Darjeeling Limited becomes a charming, well observed, and aesthetically ravishing story of maturation, coping, and the struggle to let go of old baggage.