From his first feature, Rushmore, Wes Anderson has had a unique style. Bright colours, deadpan performances and the all important soundtrack have become staples of his subsequent films but the only worry with his most recent outing is that he may just be repeating himself and with less and less effect. After quite enjoying The Life Aquatic, which received some fairly lukewarm reviews, I had high hopes for this far more well received effort. Plus it showcases three of the finest noses in Hollywood!
Three brothers estranged after the death of their father meet in India to undergo a spiritual journey (which actually hides a more practical purpose for one of the brothers). Owen Wilson is recovering from a near fatal accident, Adrien Brody is running away from impending fatherhood and Jason Schwartzman is reeling from his relationship (with a suddenly naked Natalie Portman), which we glimpse in the short film Hotel Chevalier that precedes the main film. Self obsessed and shallow the brother's journey is really only made interesting about half way through when they try to prevent the drowning of three boys in a river. It is the death of a stranger that forces them to confront their own reaction to their father's death and to get closer to the spiritual awakening they hoped for.
But the film lacks substance. The colours may be bright but the film somehow fails to capture the sights and smells of India, too much of it seems clichéd, and even the visual tricks are ones we've seen before in previous films. The performances are predictably low-key but lacking any real character and Bill Murray makes one of the most pointless cameo appearances ever. Even the soundtrack is disappointing with a confusing recurrence of French standards when I'd have thought Wes would've been having a field day plundering his collection for all that Indian influenced music from the 60's.
What's surprising with this film is how well he handles the middle section where it all becomes more serious. Perhaps Anderson has been hiding some real substance under his cloak of design and quirkiness? I'm not sure where he goes from here but maybe he'd benefit from a spiritual journey of his own.