As a big fan of Wes Anderson, it’s a real shame that my two most recent watches of his work have been complete duds. Maybe this is due to the fact that I left his least interesting films until the very end, or at least the ones I thought wouldn’t be interesting in the slightest. While Bottle Rocket isn’t an interesting film, it isn’t a bad one either, and that makes things considerably worse for me. It’s harder to talk about a film that is competently made, yet elicits no emotional response, than to talk of a bad movie.
It’s really difficult to write about a movie that is just okay, and that’s exactly what Bottle Rocket is. It didn’t inspire anger or love; it didn’t inspire anything at all if I’m completely honest. There are well rounded performances from the leading trio, consisting of Dignan (Owen Wilson), Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson) and Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave). The three have great chemistry with one another, and the film follows their attempts at building up to a great bank heist that will see them set for life.
But as this is an Anderson comedy, you’ll have the expected tropes of his direction. What surprises me most of all though is that his typical style, symmetry and colourful pastiche is lacking entirely. Instead of his lovingly crafted, bright sets that masquerade darker plots and intentions, Bottle Rocket feels like a quickly thrown together drama piece. Lacking the ambitious style of his later work, it’s always nice to see where Anderson’s inspiration came from, however there’s nothing that really connects this piece of work with the rest of his artistically channelled filmography.
At least then, that means his direction can instead focus on the performances within, rather than the ever sweet and often sickening sets he usually provides. It’s a shame then that Luke and Owen Wilson do little to bring the script to life. There are a few throwaway jokes within that do provide some comedic engagement, however outside of that there’s little enjoyment to be had.
While it’s surprising to see James Caan in this movie, he doesn’t really inspire a lot of confidence. Maybe then the script, written by Anderson and Wilson, needed a lot more work done to it. There’s only so far the competent direction can take you, and outside of the odd line or two, there really is little of interest within the story.
Still, it’s always interesting to see where a director has started, and that’s just what Bottle Rocket is. A presumed footnote to a career that would go on to direct better. A glanced over piece for the actors involved, as they went on to or have previously starred in so much better. But I don’t regret my time with Bottle Rocket, it felt a lot shorter than I had expected it to be.