THE DARJEELING LIMITED
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Owen Wilson, Adrien
Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston
Director: Wes Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: October 12, 2010
ďWhy are your eyes so red?Ē
ďWhy is your head so bald?Ē
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 next film, The Darjeeling Limited, to be anything groundbreakingÖboy was I wrong.
This film comes tremendously close to equaling Rushmore, which is enough of an accomplishment. 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 new found 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, which he would then perfect even more so with his triumphant animated follow up, Fantastic Mr. Fox.
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. When the time comes to reflect on the truly best work he ever created, this film will certainly be remembered!
BONUS: It really wouldn't be a Wes Anderson film without the presence of Bill Murray. He pops up as a traveling businessman in twice in the film, the second of which is during a character montage that also includes a brief appearance from Natalie Portman, who is featured in the short film that precedes this.
I was a bit worried a couple of years ago when this only got a DVD release, which WASN'T from Criterion. Mind you, the transfer was most terrific but if there's one thing all Wes Anderson fans can agree on...it's that his films belong on Criterion and in Blu-ray format. Thankfully, the right studio has officially gotten their hands on this film and released it on a Blu-ray that is S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R at the very least. It's marks the first time we get to see an Anderson film on Blu-ray shot in the 2.35:1 widescreen format (the only other film of his on Blu-ray, Bottle Rocket, was his only film shot in the flat 1.85:1 ratio). So as you can imagine, the eyes are treated to a great deal during the 91 minute running time. The one-of-a-kind art direction and Robert Yeoman's phenomenal widescreen cinematography have never looked more astonishing than they do in the 1080p. Image detail is certainly bigger than it was before. You will practically feel as if you are there in India, as well as the train compartment, with the Whitman brothers. If it weren't for their release of The Thin Red Line, this would easily go down as Criterion's best looking release of the year!
I can easily say that the DTS HD mix is definitely an upgrade from the sound mix of the previous DVD release. This is a dialogue oriented film, but the lossless sound mix takes full advantage of India's surroundings. In addition, the music in the film, comprised mainly of songs by The Kinks and Indian music from the films of the late filmmaker Satyajit Ray, sounds nothing short of beautiful. And the balance between music playback, dialogue delivery, and other various sounds in the background is as perfect as it can possibly get!
Criterion has now delivered to us the exact lineup of extras we were hoping to one day see accompany this film. First off, we get the short film titled Hotel Chevalier, otherwise known as Part 1 of The Darjeeling Limited, featuring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman. You have the option to watch the film with or without it, though I strongly believe you should indeed watch it. There's also a brand new commentary track with Wes Anderson, Schwartzman and co-writer Roman Coppola which, of course, is a great and informative listen. We also get a brand new and nicely detailed look behind the scenes courtesy of documentarian Barry Braverman, as well as a discussion with Anderson and director James Ivory on the music used in the film, Andersonís American Express commercial, On-set footage shot by Roman Coppola and actor Waris Ahluwalia, a Video Essay by critic Matt Zoller Seitz, Audition Footage, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, the Original Theatrical Trailer and Stills Galleries courtesy of James Hamilton, Laura Wilson, and Sylvia Plachy.
Finally, we get that great Criterion trademark; an insert featuring an essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Chase Anderson (Wes' brother) and is quite unique looking even by Criterion standards.
At long last, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited is right where it belongs; on Criterion and on Blu-ray! If you love the film as much as I do and have a Blu-ray player, then you simply owe it to yourself to ditch your copy of the previous DVD release and upgrade to this magnificent Blu-ray upgrade, as every aspect of the disc is now in its top possible form. And the film itself remains one of Wes Anderson's greatest achievements to date!