A slow-motion shot. A classic rock tune. A character comes in to frame, perfectly profiled from the side. Welcome to The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson’s new film about brotherhood.
Having not seen each other since the death of their father, eldest brother Francis (Owen Wilson) summons his brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to come with them on a journey through India on the title-worthy train. On this train, the brothers all share different kinds of prescribed pain-killers, smoke pretty consistently, and casually irritate the lead steward (Waris Ahluwalia). Francis takes the lead on this voyage but, even from the beginning, seems like he’s holding something back from the others–this seems to be punctuated by the fact that he sports head dressing and giant bandages which the others feel may not be real.
This has all the trademark Wes Anderson quirks, except unlike The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Anderson’s last piece unless you count those brilliant American Express commercials and the short film that was supposed to precede Limited, Hotel Chevalier), this film has complex and sympathetic characters. Wilson shines as the oldest brother of three in perhaps his best performance to date. Brody proves that he CAN be funny (despite what the people at SNL think). Schwartzman (who helped write the film with Anderson) is pretty remarkable as brother Jack. He walks around like a film-noir detective with no case to solve. Schwartzman is Woody Allen-esque in his approach to the character and his performance is very endearing. There are only a handful of notable supporting performances and those belong to Amara Karan as the train’s stewardess whom Jack awkwardly seduces and Anjelica Huston as the trio’s fiercely independent mother Patricia who spends most of her time trying to ward a tiger away from her Indian camp.
Like other Anderson movies, this seems a bit long (despite being only 90 minutes) and has some of the gimmicks that we’ve come to know and overappreciate, yet there is still enough quiet chaos and personal exploration that the journey you take with these three brothers is still pretty worth it. That’s more of a testament to the performances than the actual story-telling, though. Anderson is trying some new things here visually, which I like. There is much more action in the shots than in previous efforts like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums (both currently residing in the prestigious “Josh Radde Top 100”). It’s nice that he made that decision because that feeling of alienation he creates with his shots (as mimicked/stolen in other films like Napoleon Dynamite) would not have fit with the tone and themes of this movie. This is very much a film about motion (hence the train) and if Anderson had made The Life Aquatic as lively, it wouldn’t nearly have been such a struggle to get through. What Anderson lacks here, surprisingly, is the ability to tell a straight-forward story. That doesn’t mean that I wanted it to be linear (which it’s not) but I wanted to feel like there was a definite reason why everyone involved decided to come, and more importantly, why everyone involved decided to stay. He doesn’t sell the audience with the story, because at the end of the day we won’t believe that these brothers would come together the way they do.
So that being said–it is pretty funny and often times subtly touching. And even after it all, if you’re sick of Anderson’s films, The Darjeeling Limited is one you should check out if only for the beautiful landscapes and sharp, vivid cinematography.