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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

You can't critique the writing in Wes Anderson's films in the same way that you can, say, The Interpreter because his films don't follow normal story logic. So I won't bother and stick to some random comments instead.

Anderson has revealed his passion for Jacques Cousteau at least since Rushmore. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is his unauthorised tribute to that legendary ocean explorer, though I don't know if the real Cousteau was "a showboat and a little bit of a prick". Undoubtedly the movie is filled with ten times as many Cousteau homages than the few I picked up.

Bill Murray does his Bill Murray bit as well as ever though he's allowed to be a bit more prickly (ahem) in this role. Angelica Huston (as Zissou's wife), Michael Gambon (his backer), Owen Wilson (his son), Jeff Goldblum (his nemesis) and an actually pregnant* Cate Blanchett (duplicating Emma Thompson's wild-eyed doe look as a reporter along for the ride) do good - if uninspired - work in supporting roles. Surprisingly it's Willem Dafoe as a pouty German member of Zissou's team who nearly steals the show.

Like Anderson's previous movies The Life Aquatic is quirky, formal and possessing of a wonderful texture. Some films have a theatrical quality, but Anderson's are more like dollhouses come to life. It was unexpected therefore to see so much death and violence in the movie. While the action sequences do have the same playful, surreal quality as Max Fisher's Vietnam opus in Rushmore, it's strange to see them punctuated with characters actually dying, and for those deaths to be treated so casually.

The soundtrack is fairly evenly split between Bach and Bowie. I don't know why Anderson hasn't used David Bowie's music before - it's a perfect fit with his sensibility.

It took me a couple of viewings to really "get" Rushmore whereas I immediately loved The Royal Tenenbaums and possibly consider it the best movie of 2001. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou isn't up there with Tenenbaums but I look forward to seeing if, like Rushmore it improves with a second viewing.

PS: awkward confession time: I used to own the same tie that the Bond Company Stooge wore.

* I have a suspicion that because the film was shot out of sequence Blanchett actually shrinks in some scenes!

Comments (2)

If I may, I would suggest that it gets even better with the third and fourth and fith viewing (I think thats were I'm at... ). The full richness of the characters, their sensibility and their absurdity come really to life. I especially like all the that subplot about paternity… How Ned grew up with out a father, how Steve as been a father figure for so many people but doesn’t like fathers himself, how Ned will become a father figure for a baby that will never know him and how Steve begins to understand the importance he has as a father for is crew (Eleanor is the brain, but Steve is the Zissou !)… Steve is in fact a great father, flawed, laisy, but still, he’ll do anything for his crew (confront the pirates when he understand his own mistake of going threw unprotected waters, go and save the bond company stooge… ). Anyway, I find this movie funny (hilarious by the complexity and the absurdity of the characters), but at the same time a brilliant exploration of what it means to be a father at what a father means to us… Definitely one of my favourite movie.

I forgot, as examples of that paternity subplot, the rivalry of Steve and Alistair Hennessey for the attention of their mentor and the search of Klaus to be recognise as a son to Steve and Esteban…

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 21, 2005 12:00 AM.

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