Wednesday, 23 May 2012

In Cinemas This Week - Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

After a generally positive plaudit at the Cannes Film Festival Wes Anderson's 6th feature Moonrise Kingdom opens nationwide in the UK this friday. With a cast boasting some of the finest performers in Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, and Francis McDormand, as well as Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, it's surely a cinematic event worth getting worked up for. Or is it?

Wes Anderson's auteur status is undeniable, his films are of pure authorial vision and so no wonder fits well within the Cannes scene in a year uncharacteristically overshadowed by literary adaptations. Also undeniable is the polarising effect which Anderson induces upon audiences; he's a playful filmmaker full of personality, passion, and innovation, yet his films though always showing moments of masterful brilliance are often smothered by his directorial flourishes. Devices utilised early on in his career now feel stale and contrived as his films are stylised within an inch of their lives, creating a self-contained result stumping any sense of life or freedom. 

This all sounds rather harsh but the truth so often does. I'm not a big Wes Anderson fan though I've enjoyed most of his work, the problem stems from the feeling that as an artist (much like Quentin Tarantino) he's suffocated by his own genius, that he's capable of so much more if only he could reel in his creativity and show restraint. Anderson (again like Tarantino) has massive talent for building fitting memorable soundtracks around the pop music of old, has encyclopaedic cinematic knowledge, and evidently has technical directorial prowess - his command of the camera is often stunning though equally distracting. I described Anderson's films as if operating within a self-contained world, often displaying innocent yet damaged worlds like he's fighting for a utopia, an unattainable reality destroyed by the strains of life - in his case, most often familial issues. Yet for all the heart and truth on display Anderson never delves too deep, never dwelling too much as he's distracted by technical wizardry and his penchant for 'quirky cool', the results of frustratingly stifled. This frustration is only made due to seeing Anderson getting it so right, if only sparingly; just think of Luke Wilson as Richie Tenenbaum as he stares into the mirror announcing he's going to kill himself, as Elliot Smith's 'Needle In The Hay' takes up the soundtrack we get something truly heartbreaking and utterly sincere, all this aided by Wilson's understated and felt performance. Another example, again from 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, is of Ben Stiller as Chas Tenenbaum; towards the end of a beautifully choreographed 'Wellesian' long-take Chas reconciles with his father in one short expression that strikes the biggest emotional chord of the film. As he looks at his father with pained expression he says, "it's been a tough year dad", in mere seconds the long-felt contempt towards his father dissipates adding touching resolution while cutting straight to the heart of the film with impressive economy. These are just two examples of when Anderson's technical flair and aptitude for melding sound and image harmonise to create these human moments that resonate so heavily. Unfortunately on many occasions his constant desire to show off technique blocks other attempts at what would other wise be more stunning examples like these.

Along side the instantly recognisable cast, Moonrise Kingdom boasts two first time actors as the 12 year old lovers who flee together causing their small island community to search and come apart at the seams. The footage brings to mind Richard Ayoade's Submarine which back in 2010 upon that film's release echoed Anderson's work, this comparison is made stronger due to Anderson bringing his attention this time to child protagonists. 

So can we expect anything resembling a departure from Moonrise Kingdom? Will Anderson's latest show a progressive step for him? Will it convert any of his many detractors? News from Cannes looks doubtful. Reception ranged from kind to emphatic with popular opinion being it was his best since Tenenbaums, though it's exactly what we've always come to expect from Anderson. As always his assembled cast is marvellous but I expect once again Wes will have the spotlight securely placed on him. Depending on your affiliation with his brand of hyper stylised hipster tendencies this may not be a problem, or it could be the final nail in the coffin if this talented filmmaker continues to operate firmly within his box. 

Moonrise Kingdom is out nationwide Friday 25th May - review coming soon.