December 2004

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

by Aaron on December 31, 2004

in Movie Reviews 

Wes Anderson’s fourth film finds him using new genres to explore old ground.  Easily the most subtle and complex of Anderson’s films, The Life Aquatic tells the story of declining oceagraphic documentarian Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his quest to put the meaning back into his life, be it through anther adventure or the awkward bond with his newly acquainted grown son (Owen Wilson).  It’s a difficult film to take in on the first viewing, but ultimately it’s Anderson’s most emotionally satisfying film to date.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
4 & 1/2 Stars

Four films in, Wes Anderson is fully on his way to becoming the most accomplished young directors working in Hollywood today. Each one of his films has been a rich, fully realized tapestry detailing the convoluted lives of the has-beens, the never was, and the almost greats, and with The Life Aquatic Anderson delivers his most perfect failure yet in Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou.

Steve Zissou is a marine-life documentary maker who, along with his crew, his equipment, and his personal life, has definitely seen better days. Due to the death of his close friend and his failing celebrity, Zissou is an embittered crank who continues to work because it’;s all he knows how to do. When a man claiming to be the product of one of his many extra-marital affairs arrives (Owen Wilson) to find out more about him, Zissou is shown what he might have missed in his life. When nature reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) shows up to interview Zissou, he’;s energized by a sense of purpose and drive he’;s not felt in years as he strives to complete his latest documentary detailing his attempts to destroy the animal that killed his friend. Along the way Zissou deals with a rapidly disintegrating marriage, his burgeoning feelings of fatherhood, pirates, larceny, and out-and-out mutiny.

The Life Aquatic marks a departure for Anderson as not only is he now having to deal with action sequences, he’;s also included the stop-motion animation work of Harry Selick (James & The Giant Peach, Nightmare Before Christmas). Furthermore, this marks the first time Anderson has written a film without Owen Wilson, who merely stars in this one. Each one of those changes is felt in one way or another, be it from the strangely staged (and hopelessly goofy) action scenes, the otherworldliness of Selick’;s creations, or the much more melancholy and resigned feel of the film’;s characters.

Thankfully Anderson’;s cast is more than up for the challenge and no actor rises to the occasion like Bill Murray. Zissou could almost be the middle-aged version of Rushmore’;s Max Fischer, whose enthusiasm and endless energy has been destroyed by disappointment after disappointment. Not so much charming as just a blowhard who is used to getting his way, Murray’;s Zissou is just a wellspring of barely contained regret and bitterness. He’;s surrounded by a cast of Lost Boy-esque misfits like Klaus (Willem Dafoe), who worships him like an eager puppy and the aforementioned prodigal son, Ned whose own sadness is offset by his desire to have a father, and his blossoming relationship with soon-to-be pregnant mother Blanchett.

For all of Anderson’;s trademark quirk and eccentricity, it’;s Murray that makes this film so emotionally satisfying. Zissou is desperate for any kind of redemption be it personal or professional, and his longing to be liked and loved is almost heartbreaking. There’;s an emotional payoff to this film’;s meandering journey of oddity, and while it’;s certainly not free of faults, The Life Aquatic might just be Anderson’;s most perfectly realized character piece to date.

For all of Anderson’;s trademark quirk and eccentricity, it’;s Murray that makes this film so emotionally satisfying. Zissou is desperate for any kind of redemption be it personal or professional, and his longing to be liked and loved is almost heartbreaking. There’;s an emotional payoff to this film’;s meandering journey of oddity, and while it’;s certainly not free of faults, The Life Aquatic might just be Anderson’;s most perfectly realized character piece to date.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }