Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

A Moon With A View

Moonrise Kingdom USA  2012
Directed by Wes Anderson
Playing at UK cinemas now

I suppose there’s some part of me that should be a little more sad in the knowledge that with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, I’ve now probably seen the best movie I’m going to see at the cinema in 2012. However, last year I saw Amer back in early January and I knew then that it was the best movie of 2011... and I had to get through 12 months of films which weren’t nearly as bright or shiny as Amer before I could reset the clock on “best movie of the year”. So with Moonrise Kingdom, I’m happy I only have to wait just over six months to hit the reset button.

I hope Mr. Anderson wouldn’t take it as an insult if I said that, in terms of modern, living, working directors... he’s the next best thing to Hal Hartley. For me, he’s a film-maker who consistently turns out good, well made movies. It’s true that they’re not all favourite films of mine... but they are very watchable and when they’re great, they’re really great. I might, for example, cite his film The Royal Tenenbaums as being one of the great contributions to modern film art and I would most certainly hold up his amazing The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as being one of the greatest pieces of cinematic art ever made. Those two films for me, in particular, will always win me over to Mr. Anderson’s work and ensure that I follow his progress with an embarrassing avidity which betrays my awestruck status in the presence of one of his movies.

And I’d easily place Moonrise Kingdom alongside these two as being his three best pictures.

Like all of Anderson’s work, Moonrise Kingdom is very simply crafted and almost deceptively simple in the shots as they are presented on screen. The theme of neatly places objects which seems to run through all his work and which, for me, culminated in that brilliant cut away shot of the ship in The Life Aqautic with Steve Zissou is very much on display in this one. All the camera movements are dynamic but very... well I keep saying it... very simple. Straight pans to the left or right with no other movement and changes of direction up or down or forward etc. usually do not occur at the same time or affect the movement of any other part of a shot. At least that’s the way it seems to me.

It’s as if Yasujirô Ozu, a director noted for his mastery of constructing films which comprise solely of shots using low placed, static camera and then edited together, had suddenly been given the challenge of making a movie with moving camera. If this is what he’d been interested in doing, I think Wes Anderson’s style of filming these things would have been the exact result. Nothing too complicated in the interest of revealing the clarity of any given situation.

The content of the film, like many of Anderson’s works, held absolutely no interest for me... two runaways, one a boy scout, who escape together and the ensuing manhunt and fate of these two... and the effect of these acts on their surrounding characters... are really not something I would expect to be entertained by for the roughly hour and a half running time. But Anderson just makes it so interesting. The level of communication and precision his shooting style brings to his script, co-written with collaborator Roman Coppola (who directed another of my favourite movies, CQ), allows the performances in that very clear and literal dialogue style (all of Anderson’s movies are like this) to allow the audience to see the true depth of their characters. The subtleties which might, in another director’s hands, be missed by other distractions, are all pushed to the front of your attention... the result being that you will identify and feel for most of the characters as they are presented to you. Bruce Willis’ lonely policeman having an affair with the wife of the missing daughter, Edward Norton’s scout leader who loses his way when the value of his work is brought into question, the two children at the heart of the storm... they are all living, breathing people to the audience. About the only two adult characters you may not be able to relate to are Bob Balaban’s excellent narrator, who’s status as such defuses the mysteries of his appearance in time and space, and Tilda Swinton’s “social services”... the only name her perceived institutionalised villainy is given.

It’s true that the through line of this film makes the final fate of the two main child protagonists very obvious... and normally that would bother me... but Moonrise Kingdom is just so well put together that, honestly, to reach any other conclusion to the story would feel like a cheat.

As usual for a Wes Anderson film, the musical references play an important part in Moonrise Kingdom and it’s true to say that as a director, he obviously comes from the same “needle-drop” school as Tarantino when it comes to wisely placed musical choices in his movies. The orchestral deconstruction of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra is particularly favoured in this movie, bookending the film musically with a nice cyclic simplicity which allows Anderson’s “fetishisation” of various objects (such as the record player playing the source music or of various placements of things around a house) to take full grip on the audience and weave a spell quite magical in its intensity. But it’s the inclusion of some absolutely magnificent cues by modern soundtrack guru Alexandre Desplat that actually bring the movie up another level. As both the metaphorical and literal storm hits and the search continues, the beauty of the melody and the booming percussion which gives even Ennio Morricone’s score for Il Mercenario a run for it’s money helps to transform Moonrise Kingdom into a truly sublime experience. Seriously, hearing this scoring and seeing the accompanying images projected onto a big screen are the closest I’ve ever come to actually suffering from the condition known as Stendhal Syndrome with a work of art. Absolutely gob-smacking.

This is definitely a score you wil be humming as you leave the cinema... especially if you stay for that magical moment halfway through the end credits sequence where Desplat’s great “building to action” cue is deconstructed by the children in the same style as The Young Person’s Guide to The Orchestra. I was sitting there absolutely mesmerised by the whole experience.

Okay, so if you haven’t already guessed it yet, Moonrise Kingdom gets a definite recommend from me... if I was blessed with three arms it would get a Three Thumbs Up from this humble, thumbful blogger. I’m so hoping that Criterion get the first option to release the DVD of this... I can’t wait to add it to my pile of movies I would watch repeatedly if I only had the time. An absolute gem... unmissable!


  1. Three thumbs! Hurrah! A great review--thorough and precise in what works for you. So glad to hear there is a best movie already!

    1. Yeah, I'd take this over Prometheus any day.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. A great review, it's so good to find a film you love. I must try The Royal Tennembaum's again - I ditched it too soon and that's just wrong! You also make me wonder why I walk out of films not remembering the music. Must do better. Thanks for being thought provoking. Sandy

    1. Hey there lady.

      Yeah, you should give that a go or skip directly to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou... one of my all time faves.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      Get writing on your next review soonest!

  3. Just curious. I've been searching everywhere online to find the name of the young narrator who introduces the "Young person's guide to the orchestra" on the record and who also deconstructs the musical score during the ending credits. Does anyone know by any chance? I thought it might be the young lead actor Jared Gilman, but not sure. Thanks!

  4. Hi there.

    Just looking at the sleeve notes but they were no help. The Benjamin Britten was the old Lenny Bernstein but no idea who the narrator was. Similarly on Desplat's piece, I would imagine it's the young male and female leads deconstructing the score but no credit given.

    Thanks for reading.