Monday, October 29, 2007


A rut of not-so-many colors

By Edward Copeland
At the very beginning of The Darjeeling Limited (not counting the Hotel Chevalier prologue), we see Bill Murray in a cab speeding through Indian streets, rushing to meet a train that he just misses catching. Once Wes Anderson's latest cinematic ride is over, I wished I'd stayed with Murray at the train station where it's possible I could have found a better and more interesting movie.

Watching The Darjeeling Limited after Wes Anderson's last disappointment, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, I can't help but wonder if what's gone off course in Anderson's films is not having Owen Wilson as his writing collaborator.

I loved Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums and I liked Bottle Rocket, but Anderson's work with other writers (Roman Coppola and co-star Jason Schwartzman here, Noah Baumbach in Life Aquatic) seems to lack the essential fun and magic the Anderson-Wilson screenplays were able to conjure.

What's left in both cases seem to be sets, shots and even color schemes out of a Wes Anderson movie, but with nothing of interest to bring the productions alive. The Darjeeling Limited seems even more aimless than Life Aquatic did, with Anderson calling on most of the same stable of actors (Wilson, Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston) to sound pretty much the same notes they have in his other films.

The one thing that sets Darjeeling Limited slightly apart is the addition of Adrien Brody, who manages to shake up the usual formula a bit by bringing his own strange chemistry to the mix and most of the best moments of the movie are thanks to him.

I got to see the latest prints of the movie which include the short film Hotel Chevalier in front of it, a short that has received more praise than The Darjeeling Limited itself. Even that wasn't that interesting to me, though I think it earned kudos just because it ends more quickly than the main feature.

It's easy to see why they added it though, to explain what otherwise would look like a wordless cameo by Natalie Portman late in the film. On the other hand, it also undercuts some of the movie's closing lines about Owen Wilson's character not knowing the whole story when the audience does.

With Wilson's personal problems of late, I wish him only the best, but I do wish he'd step back behind the keyboard, with or without Anderson. Anderson is a very idiosyncratic filmmaker, but that runs risks after awhile.

Think of all the duds another filmmaker, Woody Allen, had in the '90s when his best offering, Bullets Over Broadway, happened to have a collaborator on the screenplay.

Anderson hasn't been flying solo on his scripts, but he hasn't found anyone who meshes with him as well as Wilson did. With The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson has come up with his second film in a row that plays as the dullest form of deja vu you can imagine, right down to the similar slow-motion shots of actors walking to background music.

The Darjeeling Limited is an even bigger disappointment than Life Aquatic was, but I still hold out hope that Anderson can right his ship.

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You make a good case for Owen Wilson the writer. He certainly complements Anderson better than anyone else so far. Baumbach seemed to bring out something mean-spirited (e.g., all the cruelty to animals scenes in Life Aquatic) and Anderson's collaboration with Coppola and Schwartzman was all build-up and no pay-off (with the central flashback a huge mistake). I also see Darjeeling as a transitional film toward something more real. I would love to see Anderson write something with Wilsona again, but not before filming someone else's script--living in someone else's world--for a change.
Odd, I actually thought this was better than Life Aquatic. I agree with Craig in that it felt transitional. I could see the ways in which Anderson was trying to stretch, even if he didn't entirely succeed.

But your thoughts on the lack of Wilson in the writing are very much like what I've considered. His presence seemed to add something to the previous films, and maybe it is that sweetness that made Anderson's 1st 3 films so charming.
Perhaps Anderson needs to work with a writer with a stronger voice, someone who's going to offer more resistance and shape the script more stringently.
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