Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 9: Bottle Rocket

"I lost my touch, man."
"Did you ever have a touch to lose?"

Wes Anderson is a strange dude. No revelation there, but he's the kind of guy who likes to live in the world of the outcasts and people who, to paraphrase Frank Reynolds, "live on the fringe." To date he has made six films, and to be completely honest, I only loved one immediately (Royal Tenenbaums). The rest had to grow on me. I never disliked any of them, but I was either woefully unprepared to enjoy them, or I needed time to adjust to the world he created. A lot of the dialogue takes time to really catch on and enter your lexicon, but damn if it doesn't. Even Life Aquatic, his most unfairly maligned movie, has some of his best dialogue, which is odd as it's found in his busiest and most overly artificial movie from a visual standpoint. Rushmore became my favorite movie the third time I watched it and remained that way for a number of years. All of this is to say that maybe Wes Anderson is a director who rewards an audience who is willing to revisit his films and languish in their world for a while.

Bottle Rocket is his most straight-forward comedy, but it's hardly straight-forward. It's the only one of his films that doesn't seem to be set in an alternate universe. Being his first feature, I think he found it easier to have a band of outsiders inhabit the real world, but he quickly abandoned this conceit by the time he got to his next feature Rushmore that features a total of two characters that I could buy as real people outside of that universe (Max's father and Luke Wilson's O.R. {they} doctor). Take all of this with a grain of salt though as one of Bottle Rocket's more "real" characters is named Future Man.

Owen Wilson plays Dignan, a small time crook with big time aspirations. Actually, it's unfair to call him a crook as, when the movie opens, he hasn't committed any crimes yet. But he's a dreamer, and he has a 75-year plan that he's following, and it involves his former boss Mr Henry (James Caan). Dignan's best friend is Anthony (Luke Wilson) who has just been released from a mental hospital, and Dignan wants him to come along for the crime spree he's planning. They decide that they need a getaway driver and ask their other friend Bob (Robert Musgrave), a perpetually tormented guy who lives in constant fear of his older brother, the aforementioned Future Man (Andrew Wilson).

They start small, robbing a book store, and then they go on the lam, to lay low while the heat cools down. At least, that's what they convince themselves as there doesn't seem to be any real imminent danger of them being caught. But they hide out in a hotel where Anthony falls in love with a maid who works there named Inez (Lumi Cavazos). After some time laying low, Dignan hooks up with Mr. Henry and tells him about his plans to become a big time criminal. Mr. Henry, being the generous guy that he is, hooks the trio up with some of his "finest" men to aid in their next heist, among them are Rowboat, the narcoleptic Applejack, and Kumar the safecracker. Needless to say, this job is actually a decoy for Mr. Henry to rob Bob's house which is luxurious and full of expensive goods. When the decoy job starts to go wrong, Bob shoots Applejack and a smoke bomb sets off a fire alarm, the guys flee, but Dignan runs back to save Applejack and ends up getting arrested.

It sounds pessimistic, but the movie actually ends on a positive note with Bob and Anthony coming to visit Dignan at prison and tell him about what actually happened. Dignan is too consumed with the fact that, in spite of them being decoys, they had actually pulled off the heist of their dreams. In any other world, these characters would be viewed as sad and delusional, but Anderson has too much love for his characters to present them as anything but hopeless romantics. The entire climactic heist sequence is expertly staged and filmed, and has shades of Anderson's talent for composition that will reveal itself in his later efforts.

Anderson's best collaboration as a writer has always been with Owen Wilson. He's worked with other writing partners (Noah Baumbach twice and Jason Schwartzman & Roman Coppola once), but Wilson has always brought out the best in Anderson, and seems to almost be the voice of this hopeless romanticism (his other collaborators have been far more brutal towards their characters than Wilson was). Martin Scorsese is apparently an unabashed admirer of this film (he wrote a piece about it for Esquire which is included in Criterion's awesome blu-ray of the film) and selected it as his seventh favorite movie of the 90s. It's easy to see why, as Scorsese has always been a great lover of his characters as well, they just live in a far more dangerous and cynical world than Anderson's. While it may not be his most fully formed and realized film, it is certainly a great movie by a great director and shows all of the promise he would later fulfill in much better films.

On a side note, it would be great to have some feedback and/or discussion going. I'm sort of writing these in a bubble at the moment, and would like to know what some of you may think about these reviews and films. Just throwing that out there.

Tomorrow's film will be this past summer's body switching "comedy" The Change-Up with Jason Bateman & Ryan Reynolds.

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  1. I get your point about his films getting more enjoyable with time. I've found that with Royal Tenenbaums which I didn't like immediately but am completely drawn to every time I see it on the tube and there's a line delivery that makes me tear up every time and I watch usually just to reach that moment. I never was able to re-watch Rushmore as you did, but if it came on would give it another chance of course. I did really like Life Aquatic. I think after seeing Rushmore, my brother recommended Bottle Rocket, said it was great - I gave it a watch and I think was half asleep- A few years later as I canceled cable and got into Netflix, I remember adding it, saying - I need to give this another chance. And absolutely loved it.

    Granted - I watch films from a completely different vantage point then you, not ever really viewing them as a director, which I know is a skill set you bring. I tend to walk into a film -- no matter what the genre, director, starring actor -- and say okay, affect me - And often my decision a film depends on my state of mind going in - where I'm at. So I can openly admit that there are some great films that I just didn't get into because, I don't know - wasn't in the right mood.

    In any case - appreciate some of your insights on Bottle Rocket. And I love this blog - I think it's a great idea for you! Trying to decide if I should read movies I haven't seen - which currently appears to be about 80 percent!

    Anyway - Great work! I'll keep reading.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Can I ask, the line reading in Royal Tenenbaums that gets you, is it when Chaz says "It's been a tough year, dad?" because that one gets me every time.

    I can't recommend giving any of his movies a second chance enough, but Rushmore in particular. Bill Murray's performance is so nuanced that it's impossible to pick up on all he's doing the first time you watch it.

    Thanks for reading and I look forward to getting into more discussions soon!

  3. Hey Steve,

    Absolutely that's the line. I didn't want to say it because I was interested in seeing if you would pull it out.

    I will watch Rushmore again for sure.

  4. Ben Stiller has never been better than he is when he delivers that line.

    Well, maybe Heavyweights...