Director Wes Anderson has had his hits and misses with the critics throughout his career as a filmmaker. His first three films “Bottle Rocket” (1994), “Rushmore” (1998), and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) were all heralded as a triumphant new generation of films for a new generation of filmgoers. His fourth film, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was recognizably weaker than his previous works but still had his signature quirky visual style and perfect dry wit.
His fifth film is “The Darjeeling Limited” which he co wrote with Roman Coppola and one of the film’s stars Jason Schwartzman. The movie is the story of three estranged brothers, led by Francis who is excellently played by Anderson’s best friend Owen Wilson. The two other brothers Peter and Jack are played by Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, respectively.
It is apparent that the relationship between the three siblings has been broken apart through years of disillusionment and deceit.
Francis, Peter, and Jack set off on The Darjeeling Limited (a beautiful blue and yellow train run by a terribly impatient conductor) across India with a plan to find themselves and bond with each other. Unfortunately they find that a spiritual journey cannot be forced, it must literally happen by accident. This accident occurs in the form of the death of a young Indian boy which brings the trio into an unconscious spiritual journey that spawns a new relationship between the three of them.
The film does not disappoint at all. Wes Anderson is back in true form both visually and in his spectacular narrative style. It shows how much Anderson thinks about the visual aspects of his film above the actual acting itself. The acting in his films is very slow but it is intensified by his gloriously beautiful cinematography and art direction. There is always more than what the eye can see happening in almost every frame of the movie.
The acting may be slow, but it is absolutely terrific. Jason Schwartzman, who amazed critics with his performance as Max Fischer in Anderson’s “Rushmore”, shows how much he has grown as an actor. His sad eyes convey more than any of his dialogue. Owen Wilson (who has been gaining a lot of negative press lately for a suicide attempt), is completely perfect in his fifth Anderson film. It’s a little off-putting that all of the characters he has played for Anderson have been quite similar, but he delivers those dry witty lines so well that it’s entirely permissible. His character is suicidal, but the film was written long before Wilson’s personal problems so it shouldn’t be a distraction.
Adrien Brody is the best part about “The Darjeeling Limited.” His performance of the sad middle brother who is still coping with his father’s death and the impending birth of his first child is top rate. He is also superb as an Anderson player. Bill Murray’s career was completely changed after his incredible spectacular performance in “Rushmore.” We should expect to see a different Adrien Brody from now on after this performance.
Other great performances in the film come from Angelica Huston and the relatively unknown Wallace Wolodarsky. Veteran actress Huston plays the mother of the three travelers. Her performance is extraordinary and quite memorable. Wallace Wolodarsky plays the alopecic Brendan, Francis’ trusty assistant who is very touchy due to his hairless condition. Wes Anderson films are notorious for these small characters that end up becoming huge cult figures (such as Mr. Littlejeans in “Rushmore”, Dusty in “The Royal Tenenbaums” and Pelé dos Santos in “The Life Aquatic”). Brendan is one of these wonderful characters, something that becomes more cherished than the film itself. Wolodarsky has never been in front of the camera, but he proves a talented character actor with this film.
“The Darjeeling Limited” is definitely one of the best films of the year and is a huge step up for Anderson. His previous film had a weak revelation for its main character Steve Zissou which is something this film made up for. We aren’t spoon fed the story – a lot of it is up to interpretation of the viewer. It is very easy to care about the characters and the story as both are completely developed and profound. The journey that is “The Darjeeling Limited” is a beautifully crafted piece that shows even more promise from an unbelievable talented director. Grade: A