Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wes Anderson Starts Pretty Big With Bottle Rocket, A Little Film That Could...

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: A little slow, Not much happens
The Basics: Wes Anderson spends two-thirds of a film trying to avoid telling a crime caper and manages a decent love story instead.

Watching some of his newer works, it might be fairly easy for one to fear that writer and director Wes Anderson is a one-trick pony. After revealing the full extent of his genius with The Royal Tenenbaums, he essentially remade the same movie twice with his subsequent films. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I went back and watched Rushmore, which he did prior to The Royal Tenenbaums. Because I enjoyed that, I decided to go back to his beginning and watch Bottle Rocket. It's fun sometimes to see how writer/directors get their start and Bottle Rocket is no exception.

Bottle Rocket establishes Anderson's known conceits: in each of his movies (it seems) there is a running scene with the camera tracking the runner, a strong use of soundtrack and a number of moments that are quiet and somewhat awkward. I like those latter moments in Anderson's films; they often happen to me so I see their inclusion in his movies as added realism. His movies tend to need to breathe some and that works well. It works well in Bottle Rocket especially, because not so much happens in this movie.

Anthony Adams is rescued from a mental health institution where he has voluntarily checked himself in by Dignan, an idiot who has a plan for the rest of their lives that involves a crime spree. Dignan, Anthony and Bob rob Anthony's house in order to have enough money to stay on the run until they are able to hook up with Mr. Henry, a supposedly notorious crime boss that Dignan used to work for. After robbing a book store, the trio descends upon a motel to lay low for a while.

While Bob is called back home to help get his brother out of a legal jam involving pot being grown in the backyard, Anthony falls in love with the beautiful housekeeper Inez. Determined to stay with her, but bothered by Dignan, they eventually set out to find Mr. Henry and begin their planned life of crime . . . with unexpected results.

Bottle Rocket is a very slow movie and it is inappropriately billed as a crime caper. Instead of being a crime caper, it is pretty much a group of people waiting to become criminals and the one whom the audience empathizes with most (Anthony) falls in love instead. Far more time is spent in Bottle Rocket with getting Anthony to Inez and then him trying to communicate with her and fall in love with her than with any of the Dignan plots. Instead, the film is something of a farce on the expectations of what a crime movie will be.

This puts director Wes Anderson in something of a bind because the script he and co-writer Owen Wilson wrote ends up being a movie that is not much of anything. It is a period of transition for Anthony and Dignan and it is entertaining for those patient enough to go along with it, but not so much for those who might be looking for something meaningful. It is a pretty standard Wes Anderson dramedy, though, effectively mixing quirky characters with a dramatic situation that results in a film that is both funny and dramatic.

The aspect of Bottle Rocket that is a tough sell is certainly in the plot. This is not a movie where much happens, but as a debut film goes, it quickly becomes a decent exercise in style to illustrate just what Wes Anderson is capable of. In fact, the only usual conceit included in a Wes Anderson film that is not in Bottle Rocket is an appearance by Bill Murray. James Caan more than makes up for that as Mr. Henry.

Because so little happens in Bottle Rocket, the film largely rests on the backs of the actors and the characters they portray to sell the story. Owen Wilson plays Dignan and Bottle Rocket is not a bad outing for him. Owen is able to deadpan remarkably well and he has some of the most memorable one-liners in the film. Running around with a buzz cut, he smoothly delivers a line about simply liking short hair to someone who assumes Dignan is in the military. Owen gets an easy laugh with the simple line in that case and it works beautifully to establish the character.

Outside the performance by Owen Wilson, though, Dignan is a largely unlikable character and one who seems to waste much of the viewer's time and attention on screen. Instead, the storyline between Anthony and Inez is far more compelling. Theirs is a simple love story but it works because both characters seem to want many of the same things. So, despite the fact that Inez does not speak much English, when Anthony makes it clear how he feels about her, the film is a pleasant and quiet little love story more than anything else. It's almost too bad that Dignan comes back to upset that story with his witless crime schemes and the pursuit of Mr. Henry.

Lumi Cavazos plays Inez and she has a very simple and powerful screen presence that makes her a good rival for screentime with Owen Wilson. Where Owen is frenetic and moves so much and says so much, Cavazos establishes her character with a minimal amount of movement and dialogue. She is stunning to view and quietly brilliant in the simplicity of her performance.

Cavazos plays well off Luke Wilson, who plays Anthony. Luke Wilson gives a subtle performance of his own, much different from, for example, his role in My Super Ex-Girlfrend. In Bottle Rocket, he is quiet, thoughtful and plays a character who has tangible sense of insecurity to him. Luke portrays this with a very introverted sense of body language, holding himself with a slight slouch and delivering his lines in a quiet timbre that is realistic for one who might have recently had a nervous breakdown.

Bottle Rocket is a tough sell and I think I enjoyed it more because it showed a solid start for director Wes Anderson. On DVD, there is a commentary track and trailers, but not much more (I did not have access to the Criterion Collection DVD). The film looks and sounds good, though. This movie has an art house movie feel to it and those who go into it with that as the expectation are much more likely to enjoy it than those who go in figuring it will be some great crime caper.

For other works by Wes Anderson, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Darjeeling Limited
The Squid And The Whale
The Royal Tenenbaums


For other movie reviews, please visit my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my movie reviews!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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