How can a train be lost? It's on rails!
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. In fact, more of this film was shot on location than any of his other movies, mostly in Rajasthan, India. This gives the film a bit more sense of space and grit than Anderson’s films usually have. His eye for pristine color palates matches the setting of India perfectly: the lovely architecture and clothing and panoramas pop off the screen. Where many of his films feel like a tribute to French cinema, Darjeeling Limited is steeped in Satyajit Ray influence.
This is also a great train movie for half its runtime: As the characters feel more and more cooped up as the train rattles along further from civilization, so Anderson further emphasizes the boxy, walled-in space of the train compartments.
The Darjeeling Limited is tremendously funny from time to time in Anderson’s typical dry tone. 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