What a stunning body of work Wes Anderson has created. I will be honest, when I first saw the previews to this film I was worried that Anderson may have gone the way of so many other directors who have developed their name in Hollywood. Art is replaced by money, which is replaced by angry fans. I saw the CGI fish and began to feel a sweat break with nervousness. Will he be able to continue the humor from Bottle Rocket, the darkness of Rushmore, as well as the ensemble connectedness from The Royal Tennanbaums? Well, folks, I am here to announce that he has taken the Hollywood money and has not veered too far off his signature course. I always imagine Anderson's work as a very dry martini. His humor, the most intelligent work I have seen in a long time, is like the liquid itself, creating this bold texture while packing a powerful emotional punch. The olives are the cast, giving just some extra to nibble on while you enjoy the entire drink. Place these elements together, the drink and olives, and you have The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
To begin with, this film would not have worked without anyone else in the lead than Bill Murray. His ability to contain himself while also giving us the emotional stress of being a first-time dad as well as loosing his best friend is Oscar worthy. He is the perfect guide for our trip, giving us that knowledgeable laugh as well as those sympathetic eyes that seem to shout, "Everything will work out". He is bold and smooth as both the Captain of the vessel as well as learning the tricks of being a father. His ability to deliver his lines was both crucial and beautifully timed giving us just enough to make us fall in love with him by the end of the film. Coupled with his amazing performances is the work of everyone else involved. Willem Dafoe proves that he can handle any role, big or small, and make it very memorable. My favorite character during this voyage was Cate Blanchett's role that nearly stole the show from Murray. Her multi-depth character gave us just the distraction that we needed to see the power of the father/son relationship. Her quirks take us deep into the human soul and give us a mother's perspective to this mission. It is a beautiful counter to Murray's passive/aggressive father figure. Goldblum is quickly becoming a favorite actor of mine, while Huston proves that she still has the ability inside of her. Both of these guys need to see more work. The rest of the eclectic cast ranges from the hilarious "interns" to the melancholy songs of David Bowie (see if you can spot them!). Even Noah Taylor (of Vanilla Sky fame) turned out a stunning performance. The cast shines through beautifully, playing off each other, giving us some of the best performances of the year.
I will admit, Anderson's comic narrative will leave this dry taste in your mouth, but for me it was a great experience. His humor is dry, his films are dry, but that is what makes him different than others in his field. He gives us those long pauses and obscure references that will either force you to think or create frustration because you do not understand his meaning. I have grown up on his films since seeing Bottle Rocket, and I love the way this man creates. One of my favorite lines and scenes in this film that I have raved to everyone as the epitome of an Anderson film was when Zissou first takes Ned to the island and Eleanor tells Steve that one of his cats died. After some banter, Ned asks what type of cat it was. Zissou replies "Who cares. A tabby I think
" which isn't funny at first, but then you realize that all he has on the island are Siamese cats, which only make me laugh harder in my seat. That is Wes Anderson humor, and it works perfectly for me. His ability to create these challenging characters and put them in situations that I never saw coming (the "pirates" scene being one of them) was outstanding. It felt as if he was throwing his crew into different troubles daily who in turn produced some of the best work ever. Only Wes Anderson could create beauty out of chaos.
My fear of the CGI was muted immediately when I saw that Anderson used the technique to create some of the most imaginative creatures ever to lurk in the sea impressed me. He didn't use it as a central focus of the film (until the end), and used it sporadically so that it really didn't feel as if it was being used. The creatures that he created are so bold and colorful that skillfully he uses them to counter the life of Zissou, which seems be getting darker by the day. This contrast allowed me to see deeper into Murray's character and root for his misadventures throughout the entire film.
Overall, I was very impressed. I know that not many enjoyed this picture as much as his previous works, but for me it was a fresh chapter with a stellar cast. Anderson is slowly changing the face of cinema, and soon others will follow trying to recreate his award winning voice, but will not succeed. This man is in the same boat as Gondry, Coppola, Jonez, and Kaufman. These are the imaginative thinkers of Hollywood that continually break the mold and open the doors to new possibilities.
Grade: ***** out of *****