Just as Benjamin Britten’s arrangement is a big piece of music which will be explored through several small pieces of music, each section playing a variation on a single theme, Wes Anderson’s movies feel like large productions which each express differently a long running theme; we take ourselves too seriously throughout our lives, but as children do so with an innocence which lends them grace, adults exist in ignorance which makes them base.
The latest shoot from Wes’s cannon is Moonrise Kingdom, a love story played out in the gently preserved palace of the New Penzance wilderness (actually shot in Rhode Island with inspiration from Fishers Island, NY) between a pair of brilliantly troubled/ troublingly brilliant twelve year olds Sam and Suzy. Sam (Jared Gilman) is equal parts Jeremiah Johnson and Bob Dylan with a dash of Cool Hand Luke which inspires him to slip the shackles of a life spent as an orphan in various foster cares and homes for delinquent boys. Suzy (Kara Haywood) is the very troubled child of two lawyer parents played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand-more on them later- who seethes and spites against the bucolic confines of her upbringing. Their joint venture of experience leads them to undertake an unauthorized adventure along the ancient footpaths of a long lost native Indian tribe leading them to an idyllic bay upon which they solidify the bonds of their love.
The conflict is provided by their bevy of pursuers beginning with Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) who seems to inhabit every personality from Apocalypse Now in turns. The loyal members of his troupe are charged with the boots on the ground tracking of the scofflaws, perhaps the best ensemble inside of the ensemble cast their original Lord Humongous’s marauders/Lord of the Flies mentality evolves into a pint sized dirty dozen and finally a band of Peter Pan’s lost boys on a mission. Suzy’s parents Walt (Bill Murray in his 6th Wes Anderson film) and Laura (Frances McDormand in her 1st) are a perfect pair of foils for one another as Laura is the frenetic blowhard constantly badgering and stampeding through her anger and Walt slowly bubbles in his impotent angst occasionally boiling over in fits of rage and misplaced and futile aggressions. The only one acting in a strictly official capacity is Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who represents the whole of the island’s police force, drawn into the hunt his initial ineptness is subsumed by a personal stake he takes in one of the best scenes of the movie in which he has a heart to heart with the wise-beyond-his-years Sam. Finally there’s Tilda Swinton’s severely austere Social Services who displays Terminator level devotion to her governmentally approved goal of remanding the young boy on the run, to a prison like existence in an orphanage.
Rounding out the cast are the obligatory Jason Schwartzman and an unexpected Harvey Keitel both in bit parts who find a way to squeeze every ounce of gold out of their scant few minutes of screen time. The underplayed star of the show is the Ansell Adams inspired cinematography which often uses the characters as scenery and focuses in on the landscapes which present itself in stunning relief upon which Anderson applies his window dressings. If you’re not familiar with his closet you’ll find delight in how each costume, prop, and scene is expertly dressed using the most vivid color schemes this side of a genuine Timothy Leary acid trip. The picture perfect one shots are intermixed with extended cuts that would make it seem like Martin Scorsese has ADD, the less you blink the more you see the care that has gone into every set, shot, and miniature diorama carried over from the Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson doesn’t necessarily make complex movies but he executes his craft with the hammering precision of a perfect swan dive. The film climaxes in time with a massive hurricane which floods the island with much allegory to its biblical inspiration, the final acts of defiance and heroism will keep you tense with suspense to a greater degree than any Michael Bay explosion.
If you already consider yourself an acolyte of Anderson then you’ll be eagerly awaiting the special edition DVD of this one. As for the uninitiated, if you can watch this movie and not be converted, then you lack an appreciation for beauty and I feel sorry for that empty space in your soul.