The Darjeeling Limited Review

Oct 26, 2007 | 3:41am EDT

The Darjeeling Limited could perhaps be summed up rather easily: three brothers a train and a country. But Wes Anderson’s latest like all of his movies doesn’t deserve such an easy explanation. It centers on the brothers Whitman—Francis (Owen Wilson) Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman)—who have had their fair share of troubles lately. Francis his face so heavily bandaged it looks like a helmet “smashed into a hill on a motorcycle on purpose”; Peter is set to become a first-time dad in six weeks and he’s devastated; and Jack has recently had his heart torn to shreds by his girlfriend (Natalie Portman). They also haven’t seen each other in a year—since their dad’s funeral—and there remains a lot of distance between them. Francis the oldest decides to try and mend it all by organizing a trek through India aboard the Darjeeling Limited train. Along the way he says they are to “say yes to everything even if it’s painful or frightening ” and he has also tried to arrange a reunion with their estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) who now lives in an Asian convent. All is going pretty much according to plan—fighting getting high on cough syrup commiserating over women and their late father—when real tragedy derails their journey veering it into oncoming existentialism. There is a certain quality an actor must possess to call himself a Wes Anderson actor. Wilson who has now appeared in all five of Anderson’s films clearly has it and Schwartzman who broke out in 1998’s Rushmore is the new prototype. The only question going into Darjeeling is whether or not Oscar winner Brody would be game and he is somewhat surprisingly. Brody is always on his toes as Peter ready for whatever emotional curveball might come his way. He also wears a naturally doleful facial expression which fits in with the movie’s undertones—even if he’s delivering a funny line. Schwartzman is virtually flawless in any movie but clearly kicks it up a notch when under Anderson’s direction. As Jack Schwartzman is the most humanlike of the actors: inconsolable over lost love but nothing that quick fixes can’t patch up. Wilson meanwhile shows a different side than what we’re accustomed to. He is his energetic well-intentioned self for the first half but there’s a more somber layer ultimately revealed especially when he unwraps his bandage—leaving his face and maybe something beneath it naked in a way that is unexpected for a comedic actor. Maybe Wes Anderson’s age is finally catching up with him creatively. Darjeeling’s story is his most polished congruous and mature effort to date. It runs deeper than his past tales of small-time-crook brothers (Bottle Rocket) a precocious teenager (Rushmore) a large dysfunctional family (The Royal Tenenbaums) and sea voyages (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)—but it is not without Anderson’s whimsy of yore. Nor is Darjeeling without a top-notch soundtrack a device Anderson always uses to his movies’ advantage instead of detriment. This time punk and indie rock are supplanted by primarily three superb Kinks songs and a largely Indian score. Also present are Anderson’s unsurpassed attention to detail and visual style. But Darjeeling is about what’s cooking beneath the director’s trademark superficiality. It’s about the story—an utterly non-self-absorbed one (contrary to the oft-filed complaints of his many detractors) written by Anderson  Schwartzman and Roman Coppola—which is more about letting go of metaphorical (and literal) baggage than ever before. And when that story takes a dead serious turn something only alluded to in previous movies it becomes clear that Anderson can do pretty much anything...that doesn’t involve the life aquatic.

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