The Darjeeling Limited has a reputation as a minor Wes Anderson work, clocking ahead of only Bottle Rocket among his feature films in most measurements of his filmography. But it’s a special one for me: The first Wes Anderson film I saw and one I still cherish.
The three brothers that make up the leads — Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody — have been estranged since their father’s death and are reuniting for a trip after Wilson’s Francis has a near-death accident.
If that sounds a bit like prestige Oscar-bait, that’s not an accident: Much of the power of The Darjeeling Limited is taking family drama themes and rearranging them in clever ways so the emotional bits really land. At barely 90 minutes, the movie never lingers too long in any one setting or idea before abruptly shifting to something totally new. Yet it’s all still glued together with its family themes and a handful of recurring motifs (like slow-mo tracking shots scored to the Kinks).
Anderson’s directorial style feels less like a constructed diorama than some of his other works, and his eye for pristine color palates matches the setting of India perfectly: the lovely architecture and clothing and panoramas pop off the screen.
This is also a great train movie for half its runtime: As the characters feel more and more cooped up, so Anderson further emphasizes the boxy, walled-in space of the train compartments.
The Darjeeling Limited is tremendously funny from time to time: A fight centered around pepper spray had me doubled over, barely breathing from laughter. The script is polished and clever, with about a hundred quips all delivered well by Schwartzman, Wilson, and Brody.
The brothers sometimes feel a bit like collections of traits more than full characters; Wilson does the best and creating a believable human of the three. And one particularly important character disappears anticlimactically, as if Anderson couldn’t figure out what best to do with them.
But it overall holds together amazingly well as a charming and thoughtful dramedy that turns cliches on their heads and looks brilliant.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.