Sunday, May 10, 2015

#1,728. Bottle Rocket (1996) - The Films of Wes Anderson

Directed By: Wes Anderson

Starring: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ned Dowd

Tag line: "They're not really criminals, but everybody's got to have a dream"

Trivia: Director Martin Scorsese named Bottle Rocket one of his top-ten favorite movies of the 1990s

It may not have been a commercial success (produced for $7 million, the movie took in a mere $1 million at the U.S. box office), but Wes Anderson’s debut feature Bottle Rocket did introduce his unique style, as well as newcomers Owen and Luke Wilson (who had no previous acting experience), to the world.

After spending a few months in a psychiatric unit suffering from exhaustion, Anthony (Luke Wilson) is once again ready to face the world. The facility’s administrator (Ned Dowd) said Anthony is free to go, but Anthony’s best friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) insists on “busting him out” of the place. So, instead of walking out the front door like a normal person, Anthony humors his buddy by climbing out the window of his second-floor room, shimmying down a rope made of bedsheets.

This is the first of many “crimes” that Dignan (who aspires to become a career thief) will plan out, and he desperately wants Anthony to join his gang.

With little else to do, Anthony agrees, and after a trial break-in (where they rob Anthony’s house), the duo recruit their pal, the wealthy Bob (Robert Musgrave), to serve as their getaway driver. Together, the three hold up a bookstore. Now wanted by the authorities, they head out of town and check into a motel, to "lay low" for a few days.

Dignan's ultimate goal is to team up with Mr. Henry (James Caan), the proprietor of the landscaping service he once worked for, who Dignan claims is an experienced thief. Now that they’ve pulled their first job, Dignan assures his pals it’s only a matter of time before they and Mr. Henry’s crew will stage much bigger heists.

But as they’re kicking back, enjoying their recent success, Anthony meets and falls in love with Inez (Lumi Cavazos), a housekeeper at the motel where they’re hiding out. To further complicate matters, Bob learns that his abusive older brother Jon (played by Andrew Wilson, Luke's and Owen’s brother) has been arrested for growing marijuana plants (in reality, the pot belonged to Bob).

All at once, neither Anthony nor Bob want to continue with their life of crime, a decision that doesn’t sit well with Dignan. So, the three go their separate ways, only to be reunited by Dignan a few months later, when he enlists their help for a major heist that he and Mr. Henry have planned out.

If they pull it off, all of them will walk away with a boatload of cash. But on a job as big as this, the risks are much greater, and any hitch could land them in prison for a long, long time. For Dignan, it's a risk worth taking. Will Anthony and Bob go along as well, for Dignan's sake, or will they sit this one out?

From its slightly off-kilter characters to its breezy soundtrack (featuring songs by Love and The Rolling Stones), Bottle Rocket
serves as a fine introduction to Wes Anderson’s singular style. There’s even a nifty slow-motion scene late in the film, much like those that would make their way into Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums years later.

Bottle Rocket also features the Wilson brothers in what is their big-screen debut, both of whom succeed in making us like their characters, in spite of their flaws. Owen Wilson in particular brings an endearing naiveté to the role of Dignan, a young man out of his element who tries to convince those around him that, one day, he’ll make a great crook. But from the word “go", we can sense Dignan's insecurities; during the book store robbery, Dignan calls the location’s middle-aged manager (Darryl Cox) an “idiot” for grabbing a small bag for the cash instead of a large one. When the manager snaps back at him, calling him a “punk”, a clearly intimidated Dignan immediately starts to act more civil.

His inexperience, coupled with his enthusiasm for stealing, only makes the character of Dignan more likable, and we find ourselves rooting for him, even as we realize he has zero chance of making it (the final moments of Bottle Rocket are simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking).

As mentioned in my write-ups of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and the recent The Grand Budapest Hotel), I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson, whose unique flair improves with each successive film. Much like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and a handful of other directors, I consider a new Wes Anderson movie an “event”. In Bottle Rocket, we witness the birth of the director’s distinctive style, and thanks to the Wilson brothers, the movie is also a hell of a lot of fun!

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