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THE DARJEELING LIMITED

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston
Director: Wes Anderson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: February 26, 2008
 

ďWhatís wrong with you?Ē

ďLet me think about that.Ē

Film ****

Iíve been an admirer of Wes Anderson ever since I first saw Rushmore nine years ago. And with the films that followed, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, I found much to admire yet didnít find them at the level of his character driven comedy gem from 1998. So needless to say I wasnít expecting Andersonís latest opus, The Darjeeling Limited, to be anything groundbreakingÖboy was I wrong.

This is by far Andersonís most endearing, focused and rewarding piece of cinematic art since Rushmore. Yes, it does contain the usual ingredients we come to expect in a Wes Anderson film; the whimsical humor, the beautiful widescreen cinematography, the occasional slow motion shots (my personal favorite), the hip retro soundtrack (The Kinks take center stage on the soundtrack), and a story involving a dysfunctional family. It was the theme at the heart of both Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic, so by now it may seem tedious to visit the same plot themes with this new filmÖnot so, because Anderson, along with writers Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, has crafted his most fully realized take on the dysfunctional family.

Whatís more, the film provides a stunning sense of travel to it, as most of the film takes place aboard the Darjeeling Limited train headed to India. And once it arrives in India, Anderson and the filmmakers make you feel as if you are there. I donít know if Iíll ever get to visit India, but this film can very much be labeled as the next best thing!

The focus of the story is a reunion of three brothers who have been brought together on the train for a so-called spiritual journey after years apart from one another. Actually, eldest brother Francis (Owen Wilson) has requested the presence of his younger brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) on this trip as a chance for the three of them to bond and grow closer to each other.

It doesnít take long to realize that each brother has brought on board a great deal of baggage, in both senses of the word. Francis, whose head is completely covered in bandages, is recovering from a motorcycle accident and has a newfound respect for life. Peter has left behind a girlfriend who might be pregnant, which he isnít ready to accept. And Jack is recovering from a bad break up and already looking to hook up with one of the stewardesses on the train.

In addition to that, the brothers immediately resort to the exact behavior that drew them apart in the first place. They keep secrets from each other, with one brother telling another not to tell the other about what was said. Francis, being the oldest and more controlling of the three, also gets onto the Peter and Jack about using their deceased fatherís possessions without him knowing about it.

Of course, thereís a bigger reason for their reunion. Iíll leave that for you to discover. I also havenít revealed the big reason why the Whitman brothers stopped speaking, something which is revealed at a crucial point in the film.

As I mentioned earlier, there hasnít been a single Wes Anderson film that I havenít liked, but Iíve long waited for a film that would perfectly balance the comedy and dramatic elements the way Rushmore did so successfully, and The Darjeeling Limited accomplishes that balance terrifically. I was hoping it didnít go off track the way The Life Aquatic did in segments, and it doesnít. It represents Anderson at the top of his craft.

Andersonís filmmaking is even more impressive when you consider that on a budget of just $17 million, he was able to shoot on location in India. As I indicated earlier in my review, the setting is truly authentic and you will feel like you are actually there. The added bonus of the big scale location shooting is what makes The Darjeeling Limited a remarkable film experience, as well as a step up on Andersonís filmmaking game.

And the three leads couldnít have been cast more perfectly. Owen Wilson was going through a difficult period around the time of this filmís release, so his character here somewhat marks a case of art imitating life, but Wilson delivers perhaps his best performance yet in this film. Schwartzman, the discovery of Andersonís Rushmore, is at his oddball best here, and Brody, a newcomer to the Wes Anderson world, is more than well suited in the role of middle brother Peter.

Fans of Wes Anderson are in for a special treat when boarding The Darjeeling Limited. Itís a one of a kind film journey, with a magnificent blending of oddball comedy and straightforward drama, along with Andersonís perfect touch of character study. And it is indeed the directorís single best film since Rushmore, which I am happy to announce!

Video ****

Foxís anamorphic presentation is simply outstanding, ranking high with Criterionís handling of the last several Anderson films. Again, the art direction and widescreen cinematography shine at a high level. The image is crisp and clear from beginning to end, and the colors are magnificent. The India setting is so real you can literally feel the burn of the sun. Interior shots on board the train are incredibly done too. A truly remarkable presentation.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix serves this dialogue-oriented comedy most nicely. Of course, being a Wes Anderson film there is plenty of bonuses for the sound to work with, especially the soundtrack which mixes some classic Kinks songs with Indian music from the films of the late filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Some slight audio bleeding was detected early in the presentation, but otherwise this is a remarkable sounding disc.

Features **

I was kind of surprised that Criterion didnít get first dibs on this release, since they usually handle all of Wes Andersonís films on DVD, and hopefully they will release a version somewhere down the road. In the meantime, this Fox release includes the short film titled Hotel Chevalier, which is a predecessor to the film and can be watched either separately or together with the film (I prefer the latter). Also included is a Behind the scenes documentary, a Theatrical Trailer and bonus previews for additional Fox titles.

Summary:

The Darjeeling Limited is a film that works on so many levels, in addition to being one of Wes Andersonís best films to date. The character study, travelogue, and comedic elements each work in outstanding form, resulting in a unique movie experience.

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