Friday, 7 November 2014

MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012) Film Review

Check it out... if you're a fan of Wes Anderson's delightfully energetic and sporadic style, or you simply desire something with both heart and flair that is as unconventional as it is entertaining

Skip it... if you cannot stand the self-aware and comedic nature of Anderson's films, and do not wish to put yourself through another one of his pictures 

Moonrise Kingdom poster
"Moonrise Kingdom is something of an epiphany; a cinematic reawakening, if you will."

Moonrise Kingdom is a film directed by visionary director Wes Anderson, and stars Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward alongside the plethora of Anderson regulars, including Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and the obligatory Bill Murray. The film revolves around two young lovers, Sam and Suzy, who flee their current predicaments and hospitality to run off into the wilderness together. What ensues is the typically stylish Anderson fare, including a number of chase sequences, a delightfully melodramatic climax, and characterization which seems both genuine whilst bordering on the edge of satirical comedy.

The first time one watches a Wes Anderson film, one is generally flooded with so much visual artistry, comedic ingenuity, and brilliant characterization that words can not fully address the real emotions and thoughts stirring beneath the surface of a film lover. Anderson is transcendent, sentimental, and above all else, rooted in fantasy, despite the initial appearance of his weird and wacky inventions. The first time I had the opportunity to view an Anderson film was during 2011, that film being Fantastic Mr. Fox, the director's only animated feature. Three years after my initial offering, one which I thoroughly enjoyed, I had the opportunity to embrace my second Anderson fare, that being this years The Grand Budapest Hotel. Having grown in maturity and knowledge of the craft over those three years, I believe I properly respected the achievements and dazzling brilliance lying within The Grand Budapest, my favourite film for the present year. Moonrise Kingdom though is something of an epiphany; a cinematic reawakening, if you will. An opportunity to fully embrace Anderson as one of the strongest comedic directors of the modern era, and to finally appreciate his outstanding ability to seemingly further the art of film. His visual style has never been as fervent and as blatant as it is in Moonrise Kingdom, a film which combines the energy and scope of a masterpiece like The Grand Budapest Hotel, alongside the dazzling dialogue and comedy of Fantastic Mr. Fox, to provide a story which serves as a stark reminder that the ability to execute smart and keen visual comedy is most certainly not dead within the cinematic world.

Moonrise Kingdom centres around Sam and Suzy, both characters which seem typically Anderson in regards to motivations, actions and personality. Both act far more adult than the adults that surround them, have an air of seriousness that provides a range of hilarious moments, and understand exactly what they want to do for themselves; that is, run away into the wilderness and never return to the chaos behind them. Sam, a khaki scout who is tired of being bullied by his fellow scouts, will provide the knowledge of the wilderness and of camping required to keep the two alive during their lavishly intricate and detailed escapade. Suzy, a girl with temper issues who is tired of her restrictive parents and schoolmates, will provide books and other forms of entertainment, as well as bring along her cat. They are headed towards a specific beach of a New England island, of which they are to camp out and live happily together for the rest of their lives, away from civilization and other people. And whilst this plot may seem substantially fanciful from first glance, Anderson crafts this story of two children running away with a precise quantity of intentional melodrama, enough to make you somewhat believe that they can actually get away with it. Often it's the fact that both Suzy and Sam are the most sane individuals in the film. Nearly all the other characters that appear throughout the duration of the running time have flaws in their personality, or maddening issues with their social life or marriage, leaving nearly everyone within the picture somewhat insane. So as Suzy and Sam traverse across the New England countryside, one's imagination is sparked with possibility; perhaps they may just make it and disappear together for the rest of their days. Perhaps their desire to get away from the craziness of those who inhabit their (former) lives will be fulfilled.

Of course, the plan doesn't go entirely according to plan, and we get a number of insanely entertaining and funny chase sequences, as well as a wonderful climax, alive with beckoning energy and visual inventiveness. We get to witness a whole deal of inventive supporting characters, all losing their temper and patience as they try to hunt down and locate Suzy and Sam. These include Bruce Willis' Captain Sharp, the local cop who is responsible for tracking down the two adolescents; Sharp is a man lonely and seeking companionship, and desires the opportunity to talk and connect with others. He finds this connection with Laura Bishop, the mother of Suzy, played by Frances McDormand, who had previously instigated an affair with Sharp, as we find out early on in the picture. Neither are seemingly happy with the predicament both find themselves in, so we have to wonder as to why the affair even began in the first place; we quickly come to conclusion that is was to break free of her anchored and consistently repetitive life and marriage, that to Walt Bishop, played by Bill Murray. Walt wishes to break out of the confines of his marriage as well, or more so to be sucked out of his dreadfully boring life. He wants to experience the thrill of something new and invigorating, and he wants to escape from the derivative life he leads; unfortunately for him, he is anchored by his wife and children, all of whom ironically desire such as well. 

These characters are somewhat contrasted by the free Sam and Suzy, characters who are not ashamed to admit their want to leave their boring and testing lives behind, and to fly away to something they truly thrive within. The only difference between these characters are that Sam and Suzy do not feel obligated to stay in their present lives; they run away, and they do not regret it. They do what Captain Sharp, Laura and Walt Bishop want but do not have the power to properly carry out. Sam and Suzy are the physical representation of their hopes and dreams, and in that sense, reflect them more so than they would likely admit. That's much of what Moonrise Kingdom is about; breaking free and exploring the wilderness of life. Going and experimenting with things, people and the world around you, and not just sitting in one place, waiting for time to pass you by and death to arrive. Live a little. There are undoubtedly many more things that Anderson expands upon, including themes in relation to bullying and orphans, but the general gist is in relation to the character's wishes to get away from it all. It's a message that we can all relate to, and so we therefore instigate empathy with many of the supporting characters, as well as, initially, our protagonists. This message, funnily enough, anchors the story from being one that is overtly fanciful, and ties it enough to reality that one can truly believe in the characters they are viewing, and see the humanity, desperation and disappointment they all often feel. 

The film is obviously not all about thematic intentions though; we are talking about an Anderson film after all, not Under the Skin nor Enemy. Anderson is an incredibly stylistic director, and he implements many of his usual visual traits within Moonrise Kingdom, all to blissful effect. His and cinematography Robert Yeoman's effective camera work is all impeccable, and helps provide an entirely unique style for the picture. Lateral tracking shots, an Anderson favorite, most of which end with a conflicting and hilarious close-up of an individual's face, allow us to garner an idea for the location, characters and premise of a scene without resorting to basic establishing shots. Some of these shots can last for minutes on end, displaying a keen eye for detail from Anderson and a large range of talent from the actors onscreen. Anderson employs immensely jarring editing tactics, keeping the movie from getting slow or stale at any point, and this also provides a number of laughs for the audience. His use of point-of-view angles help establish us firmly in the shoes of Suzy and Sam, as they seem to be the only characters who have POV angles directed at them throughout the film. Two key scenes stick out to me, both utilizing the POV technique; one involves Sam and Suzy talking to each other as they discuss how they are to further their plan to run away into the wilderness. Every single shot in this conversation is from one of the protagonist's point-of-view, and this quickly allows us to grasp the characters emotions and their ideas. The style is very direct; very in your face, which is perhaps why it is so effective at bringing us into the environment that the main characters inhabit. The second major scene in which this style is very much prominent and potent is during a scene where Captain Sharp and Sam are talking within the latter half of the film; whenever Sharp is speaking, we see Sam partially on the bottom right of the frame, and the camera rests at a medium angle. When Sam decides to speak or to comment on anything, the camera initiates a POV angle. Both of these separate shots involve Sam in the frame, and so we feel like Sam; we feel like a story is being told to us by another character. Anderson clearly establishes the protagonists, and even during a dialogue scene which features far more speech from a supporting character than from the central character, we understand on a visual level who is really the centre of focus. So few directors enable such a visually aware style for their films that consistently changes depending on the situation or opportunity for impressive visual comedy. It's great to see a director so confident in his abilities that he can flaunt his style without seeming excessive; everything Anderson attempts with the camera and the witty and entertaining editing is done for a reason, and with flair and comedy.

Whilst there are other technical components which further the dazzling brilliance of Moonrise Kingdom, such as Alexandre Desplat's insanely quirky and fun score for the film, the numerous cameos explored throughout, as well as the strong pacing which is often one of the key features of an Anderson film, the picture ultimately hangs on the writing and characterization. The story of these runaway kids is never bland nor lacking in entertainment, as they consistently engage in talks and activities which hold the viewer's interest. Their strange self-assured nature makes both Sam and Suzy ridiculously easy to support and find enjoyment in, and the constantly revisited seriousness draws multiple laughs all throughout. Anderson and Roman Coppola's screenplay infuses a dose of heart and warmth that the film so utterly needs, for without, Moonrise Kingdom would be all flair but no substance. As it stands, the film boasts substance in all manner of places, whether it be in regards to the main protagonists, or other supporting characters like those aforementioned, as well as Edward Norton's Scout Master Ward (Norton is, unsurprisingly, irresistibly enthralling and sympathetic throughout) or the bully khaki scouts who initially threaten and make fun of Sam. Ultimately, whether you're a film student wishing to study the stylistic choices of one of the finest comedic directors of our time, or a casual film-goer desiring a film with a strong emotional core and a great self-awareness, you shan't be disappointed with what many could consider Anderson's most impressive film to date. In my eyes at least, Moonrise Kingdom is an undoubtable masterpiece.


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