Wes Anderson is a modern director with a highly distinctive style, and his idiosyncrasies of tone, theme and vision have put many a person off before now. However, in delivering his most ‘Andersonian’ film yet I feel he may have delivered a film that has wide appeal: his best since 1998’s RUSHMORE.
Set in 1965, MOONRISE KINGDOM follows the story of a 12-year-old khaki scout, Sam Shukusky, and his young love Suzy as they run away together on the fictional New England isle of New Penzance. Their disappearance prompts the locals – a scout master (Ed Norton), the local police chief (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) – into tracking them down with the help of Sam’s former scout troupe.
Once again, Anderson’s eye for the visual is right at the forefront of MOONRISE KINGDOM, a bravura opening sequence sliding vertically and horizontally throughout the house of Suzy’s family.
Once again, Anderson’s eye for the visual is right at the forefront of MOONRISE KINGDOM, a bravura opening sequence sliding vertically and horizontally through Suzy’s family home.. Throughout the film, Robert Yeoman’s cinematography helps to evoke a sense of time and place (the film is shot on Super 16) which adds to the meticulous detail Anderson puts in every picture. Tinkering with the image could seem precious (a charge often levelled at Wes Anderson), but it serves to place the mood of the film in the right place, especially during the climactic rooftop scene. The infrequency of cuts does a wonderful job of giving an impression of a coherent whole, not just in terms of the film’s progression but by allowing us to savour the characters, places and dialogue.
MOONRISE KINGDOM will also stand up to further viewings for subtle sight and background jokes. The bold symmetry of Anderson’s images makes the film a visual delight, not least when he embellishes the mundane with something eccentric. However, it is what he has delivered in terms of narrative, pathos and acting performance that makes it his best picture in years.
Anderson does an excellent job of evoking a sense of childhood, even though the children talk like adults most of the time. The dynamic between Sam and Suzy is never particularly deep, but is always touching. The affection with which Anderson treats their travails and fondness for one another is what makes this central relationship worth following. Although MOONRISE KINGDOM shares the same arch and highly artificial style of all Anderson’s films, the emotional content he elicits is not – this is a sincere film.
…it is what he has delivered in terms of narrative, pathos and acting performance that makes it his best picture in years.
The adult characters are all extremely well portrayed, Bruce Willis in particular. Playing a world weary police officer, there is a sadness and resignation to Willis’s character that makes his a more interesting and nuanced performance – one that, on paper, he could have played in his sleep. To single out Willis is to highlight the rather malnourished nature of his career in very recent times. Equally superb is Ed Norton, and a host of Anderson regulars in almost cameo roles.
The familiar elements are all here. Slightly nerdy and misunderstood protagonist? Check. Bill Murray playing a misanthropic patriarch? Check. Wry, detached humour? Check. Is there anything new here in terms of Wes Anderson’s development as a film maker? Not particularly, no – but the manner in which everything has been put together makes this whole ensemble work. The grand irony is that in delivering a film that is arguably the best example of his particular archetype, he has put together one which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend in an attempt to win over Wes Anderson sceptics.