Monday, December 12, 2011

Wes Anderson Recreates The Mood, But Not The Greatness Of The Royal Tenenbaums With The Darjeeling Limited.

The Good: Decent enough acting, Good DVD extras
The Bad: Oppressive mood, Boring, Low on character development, Dismal plot
The Basics: Filled with his regular performers, a depressing tone and character who trudge through their existence miserable, Wes Anderson tries to resell his one good idea yet again.

In the DVD bonus features for one of his films, writer-director Kevin Smith talks about his early films and describes them as essentially rewriting the same film different ways. He has a pretty unified theme over the first few films and hid that fact by creating different enough circumstances to place the similar characters in. Writer and director Wes Anderson, whose prior films include The Royal Tenenbaums (reviewed here!) and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zizou seems to have the same obsession with mood, pacing and the way his characters interact, if not speak and what they experience. With his film The Darjeeling Limited, he manages to once more create a dismal and depressing experience that feels and sounds like his prior films, yet lacks the style and panache of either of them. Instead of being clever or original, by a quarter of the way through The Darjeeling Limited, anyone who has seen the prior two films is likely to believe that they have seen this one.

The Darjeeling Limited is presented on DVD with a short film Hotel Chavier that precedes the events in the movie and adds nothing of real substance to the primary movie. What it does manage to do is quickly establish the stifling mood and slow pace of the movie that follows. It is a charmless short that is marginally connected to The Darjeeling Limited in that it features one of the main characters and establishes where he is before the movie begins. It also explains why Natalie Portman appears in a very fast series of cuts near the end of the film. Well, sort of.

Set in India on the train - the Darjeeling Limited - the men of the Whitman family, Francis, Peter and Jack. Brought together by Francis for a spiritual journey across India, the trio tiptoes around their complex dynamic of who is being honest with one another in the family and what the trip means to each sibling. Wounded prior to the journey, Francis becomes a pain in the butt to his brothers, who scheme with one another and betray the other to Francis whenever caught. One carries on with the wife of the train's conductor or usher and the other purchases a dangerous snake when the train stops.

While they avoid one another or interact, they make mention of their mother who has run off to become a nun. Soon, though, they find themselves separated from the train when the snake gets loose and India cough syrup does its thing . . .

I wish I could write "finding themselves stranded away from the train leads the Whitman brothers to a deeper sense of understanding," but the truth is by the time we get to this point in the movie, it's already so dull as to be virtually narcoleptic. I suffered through the end of the film, despising it almost all the way and how the brothers interact with one another becomes no more interesting as the movie goes on.

On the plot front, this is a ridiculously simple movie: three men share a room on a train. They talk, they get off the train, they get back on, they talk some more, they get kicked off, they wander in the Indian deserts, the audience doesn't care. In other words, this is not so much a movie about things that happen. This is not an action movie, it is not so much a growth movie, it is a mood movie and as such, the plot is almost nonexistent.

The fundamental problem with The Darjeeling Limited is that it's not much of a character study either. Writer and director Wes Anderson has the ability to make characters who are unlikable likable and perfectly viewable; he proved that with The Royal Tenenbaums. He fails to recapture such a sense of magic and class that he infused Royal Tenenbaum with to make Gene Hackman's protagonist in that movie one who was enjoyable to watch. Instead, in The Darjeeling Limited, the viewer is subjected to hour upon hour (to be fair, it's barely over the minimum ninety minutes, so one does wonder why the writer and director bothered with the short film attached to the beginning instead of adding it to the actual film) of nothing happening and watching the young men of the Whitman clan sitting and talking.

Worse yet is that much of the time the film runs has the Whitman men not talking. They lay on their bunks on the train or they trudge witlessly through the Indian wilderness or they . . . okay, they talk. But Francis keeps repeating the same stupid catch phrase "Can we all agree to . . ." and it becomes pretty clear that Peter has stolen everything he possibly could from the dead father's estate and this movie is tragically boring. Yes, there is such a thing as a movie with sex and beautiful looking people and the occasional displaced line that is genius that is more boring than virtually any other movie one has ever seen. The Darjeeling Limited is that movie.

This film is the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry.

Actually, that metaphor is not a bad one. Francis insists that the point of the journey is to build some character and to try to figure out the relationship the three brothers actually have and what it means. This is an honorable goal, but Anderson's nihilistic tendencies rob the audience of any sort of meaningful catharsis or even any genuine character development between the brothers Whitman. That might be intriguing or compelling or even inspiring for its vision, save that the viewer has seen that before . . . from Wes Anderson. We get it, play us a new song, maestro!

The acting falls flat as well, which is a bit of a surprise considering how much I usually like Owen Wilson in Wes Anderson movies. Yes, usually he is interesting at least, though I often tout Luke Wilson's acting, Owen tends to hold his own in Anderson's movies. Here, he feels like he is reading off a script and he is never fully convincing as Francis. Instead, the viewer waits for him to get around to telling the story of the bandages on his head and then we feel like it is Wilson who has told us the story.

This is not a unique problem to Owen Wilson, though, either. In one of the final scenes of the movie (don't worry, this doesn't give anything away), there is dancing. The Whitman men dance. In that scene, Adrien Brody especially is utterly unconvincing as sticking within the character of Peter. Instead, watching him dance sure seems like watching Adrien Brody dance and that's poor acting.

Considering how much I was looking forward to The Darjeeling Limited" it ought to be noted that while I did watch the "prequel" Hotel Chavier, I could not stomach watching the movie a second time with the commentary track on. Similarly, I found I had no interest in the behind-the-scenes featurettes and truth be told, after watching such a long-feeling movie, it is hard to believe that those bonus features would make the work any better.

For other films featuring Adrien Brody, please check out my reviews of:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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