Wes Anderson is one of the great originals of modern cinema. In his relatively short career to date he has already developed a fascinating style that is completely his own.
I have blogged already about THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001) and, having been enthralled by his latest movie THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, I was prompted to return to earlier movies THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004) amd MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012).
All of these films boast strong ensemble casts. The quality of the writing is so strong that it’s not surprising that big names want to be associated with his films, even if it means playing a small cameo role.
Moonrise Kingdom has star names like Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray but, perversely, it is the two child actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward who feature the most and are allowed to steal the show.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s most ambitious and successful project to date. The posters show the remarkable range of characters he has assembled. Often this kind of all-star cast has a tendency to fall flat, being more fun for the actors than the audience. Anderson, however, has the gift of being able to keep all these egos in check and engender a unique collective team spirit.
This is his best work not just because of the simplicity and ingenuity of the plot but also because, in M.Gustav, he has created a role that provides the hub around which the organized chaos can unfold. Ralph Fiennes is a revelation in this part, a comic turn that I wouldn’t have expected. His sense of timing and deadpan delivery are just perfect. There is so much going on in this movie that the cinematic roller coaster ride is ridiculous yet always great fun.
The Life Aquatic also has its fair share of surreal moments but lacks the same tightness of structure. Bill Murray plays a Jacque Cousteau style underwater adventurer in search of the killer shark which ate one of his colleagues. Since the humour is more understated and less slapstick, there are fewer laugh out loud moments. It’s therefore possible to admire the cleverness and originality of the script and settings without being so completely absorbed in the action.
In many ways Wes Anderson’s movies remind me of the music of Talking Heads. Like David Byrne, Anderson is a seriously smart, yet studiously detached observer of the quirky details of the modern world. His glossy, theatrical creations may look artificial , even superficial, but his affection for eccentrics and outsiders bring heart and soul to the anarchy.
Although he references literature through his repeated use of chapter headings, Anderson’s hyperactive imagination is tailor-made for lavish cinematic productions. Movies offer a large canvas in which he can explore an astonishing diversity of personality types and madcap adventures. As he’s still only 44, hopefully there are plenty more treats still in store.