Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Luke Wilson, Owen
Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan
Director: Wes Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2008
“Why is there tape on your nose?”
In this age of the modern gross-out comedy, it’s good sometimes to remember films where the laughter was based on character instead of gags, and where situation rather than plot drove the action. As much as I like the gleefully vulgar artistry of Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith, I do occasionally wonder what happened to movies like Bottle Rocket.
Bottle Rocket introduced filmgoers to the quirky, wonderful cinematic world of director Wes Anderson and his sometime-star and co-writing partner Owen Wilson. It was a low budget offering, but filmed with an artist’s eye for camerawork and written with an ear for natural dialogue in the most insane of situations. As Anderson himself has noted, some people loved it, some hated it. I can sort of understand either reaction, but I’m firmly in the former camp.
It opens when Anthony (Luke Wilson) is leaving a mental hospital after a voluntary stay to rejoin his pal Dignan (Owen Wilson), a dreamer with endless schemes and a 75 year plan for his ‘gang’, made complete when friend Bob (Musgrave) joins as the getaway driver…a good choice, considering Bob is the only one with a car.
Dignan fancies himself a true master of the heist. His talents are somewhat lacking, but that doesn’t curb his enthusiasm or his ability to keep his friends going along, no matter how reluctantly. His first agenda is a practice burglary of Anthony’s parents’ home, followed by a bigger venture in a book store. Dignan’s crimes are hilarilously incompetent…like wanting the manager to bag the money when all he has are little Reader’s Digest size sacks.
Dignan’s goal is to impress the eccentric Mr. Henry (Caan), a lawnscaper who supposedly doubles as a master criminal. But there’s a sidetrack when they hold up in a small motel and Anthony falls for Inez (Cavazos), a Paraguayan housekeeper with limited English skills. Poor Anthony will learn the hard way the meaning of “lost in translation”.
Bob has problems of his own, including his bullying older brother, who gets into trouble on account of Bob, making him feel obligated to go AWOL from the gang to help out. With his two partners obviously distracted, how will Dignan ever convince Mr. Henry to give him the big chance he was hoping for?
Well, the answer is, very badly, just like the final robbery. It’s a masterpiece of chaos, with long unbroken takes and Dignan’s meticulous plans seemingly foiled at every corner. I love when he yells at the workers that they’re not supposed to be there…and why exactly is he robbing a plant that seems to offer very little reward? Let’s just say, it turns out he was more of a help to Mr. Henry than even he realized.
This is a sunny, breezy romp with some wonderful characters that are instantly and endlessly endearing. Many fans still consider Dignan to be Owen Wilson’s signature role, despite his busy career in the years since. His natural all-shucks and golly-gee persona was perfect for the hapless dreamer, right down to his bad 50s yearbook styled haircut.
There is an innocence about it all that is effectively charming, and one can sense the pure joy of filmmaking in the way it was directed and assembled. Wes Anderson didn’t need a lot of money to make his vision real for his audience; his passion shines through every frame and every crack of dialogue, and the more absurd and insane, the absolute better. The chemistry of the cast makes Anderson and Wilson’s script shine from start to finish, and Anderson’s own sense of style and merriment makes a simple buddy movie into something effervescent.
In fact, this is the rare movie I would have welcomed a sequel to. After all, we only got a few months into Dignan’s 75 year plan. One can picture him rocking away in the rest home, scribbling his notes and inspiring his fellow patients to do crazy feats they will inevitably regret, but come on now…where would the world be without our Dignans?
I was seriously blown away…I wasn’t expecting a 12 year old essentially independent movie to look this good, even on Blu-ray, but this ranks amongst the best transfers I’ve seen. Kudos to Criterion for vividly bringing Anderson’s vision to life. The coloring and detail throughout are simply pristine and remarkable. In the book store, you can read the titles on the shelves, and that’s just one example. The sun impressive cinematography is delivered with a clarity that is nothing short of shocking…a perfect experience!
Likewise, the DTS HD surround track is a revelation, bringing dynamic and full life to a mostly dialogue-driven comedy. There are a few big scenes that make the most of the surrounds, along with a terrific music score and just subtle touches throughout of what extra ‘oomph’ uncompressed audio can offer.
What a package for fans…there’s a brand new commentary by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson that’s a joy to listen to…Anderson even keeps a list of questions handy so that their track doesn’t fall into lulls. A new making-of documentary looks back at the film with Anderson, his crew and stars (including James Caan).
The original short film version from two years prior is included, along with eleven deleted scenes, storyboards, photos, a 1978 short film called “Murita Cycles” which inspired this movie, and a short but visually impressive film lecture by a man named Shafrazi, who shares with you a deep appreciation for the film. There is even an original anamorphic test from when the film was originally planned to be a scope ratio production. And rounding out is a solid Criterion booklet, designed like Dignan’s 75 year plan.
Bottle Rocket is pure cinematic joy made by people who love film. It may not please all tastes, but I’d challenge you not to get caught up in the strange and wonderful rapture of it all. Criterion has proven themselves a master of Blu-ray in a very short time, and this is one of the best on the market.