*The Darjeeling Limited (R)
Kimball's Twin Peak, Tinseltown
By Jeff Sneider
After the ambitious failure of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson returns to form and silences his critics with The Darjeeling Limited, a melancholic serio-comedy about three estranged brothers who reunite for a journey to India.
Owen Wilson stars as Francis Whitman, the eldest brother who is reconsidering his life after crashing his motorcycle on purpose. Bandaged like the Mummy throughout the film, Francis remains the eternal optimist, hoping to reconnect and perhaps experience a spiritual awakening with his brothers.
Middle child Peter (Adrien Brody) believes he was his father's favorite son and hates it when Francis orders his meals for him. He's also having second thoughts about his marriage, now that fatherhood is on the imminent horizon.
The baby of the bunch, the brooding, broken-hearted Jack (co-writer Jason Schwartzman), is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) and repeatedly calls her answering machine to check her messages.
Much was made of the fact that Jack's backstory as told through Anderson's short-film prologue Hotel Chevalier, was not attached to prints of The Darjeeling Limited. But, as reported by the New York Times earlier this week, the clip will now be shown in full at the start of the film. This is a good thing; now viewers will go into the film knowing Jack's romantic history and fully appreciating his story arc.
Despite the brothers' recent estrangement, it's clear that they still love one another, even if there are significant trust issues to resolve, as evidenced by Francis' ulterior motive for rallying his brothers together. And while the Whitman brothers aren't particularly likable people, they quickly grow on us as we come to embrace their quirks and flaws.
In these eccentricities, Anderson's knack for casting pays dividends. The actors' personalities complement each other nicely and their fraternal chemistry is truly inspired.
The performances are exceptional across the board, and never more so than in a revealing scene featuring the brothers' mother (Anjelica Huston) leading her sons in a group exercise that employs non-verbal communication. Though Wilson's enthusiasm is infectious (viewers shouldn't put too much thought into the fact his character's situation mirrors his real-life personal troubles), it's no real surprise that Oscar-winner Brody is the clear standout, never less than completely interesting whenever he's on screen.
As for the unlikely setting, Anderson couldn't have chosen a better country to help showcase his directorial talents. Like a cinematic coloring book, every frame of The Darjeeling Limited bursts with energy, vitality and life thanks to the vibrant art direction and exquisite production design. India is not often depicted in Hollywood movies, and when it is, it's in stereotypical fashion. Anderson shows India in a whole new light.
Though Darjeeling loses a little steam in its second act, the film regains its footing to deliver an emotionally satisfying finale, and like all Anderson films, the inspired soundtrack is a separate gift all its own.
With this film, Anderson cements his status as one of the most distinctive and original voices working in American cinema today. The first half of the film alone represents the best, most personal writing of his impressive career.