Published Dec 01, 2004After batting an impressive three-for-three with his first handful of films, it's no wonder that Wes Anderson's projects are eagerly anticipated. Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums all share the same warmth and cleverness that comes from Anderson's use of a wide range of complex characters, as well as some of the sweetest and paradoxically cynical dialogue to hit the screen in years. The Life Aquatic looks and feels just like a Wes Anderson film and follows nearly the same formula as his past gems, which can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you approach it.
Bill Murray returns for his third Anderson film, playing Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau-like character that has achieved some success in the past with his filmed underwater adventures but is having a difficult time producing the same level of quality in his twilight years. When close friend and crew member Esteban is eaten by a newly discovered species or shark, labelled the "jaguar shark," Steve swears to hunt and kill the creature in an act of revenge, thus giving Team Zissou one last chance at media glory, if they can prove the shark actually exists.
Before embarking upon their aquatic mission, Steve learns that a young admirer named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) could be his bastard son from a previous twist. Having yet to father a child, Steve quickly takes Ned under his wing and convinces him to join Team Zissou on their quest. But the father/son relationship becomes sour when the pair both fancies their chances with Jane (Cate Blanchett), a beautiful reporter sent to write what Steve hopes to be a fluff piece, but in reality is taking a stab at hard-hitting journalism that runs this risk of showing Team Zissou as the fools they really are.
With fantastic performances from the all-star cast of supporting actors, even if a few of the characters are underutilised, such as Noah Taylor, Anjelica Huston and Jeff Goldblum, this film has the potential to be the masterpiece in the Wes Anderson cannon, but it fails to raise the bar for this amazing director, following the same flow as his past works. Luckily, Anderson's previous attempts have been some of the most intelligent and humorous films to ever have surfaced, so The Life Aquatic is in very good company.
Bill Murray delivers another Oscar-enticing performance and he is heavily supported by terrific runs by Cate Blanchett and Owen Wilson, the latter stepping back from co-writing duties with Anderson for the first time, possibly shedding a little light as to why The Life Aquatic isn't as great as an achievement as it could have been. Still, with the familiar use of a classic rock'n'roll soundtrack (along with amazing Bowie covers in Portuguese from Seu Jorge), the quick and clever dialogue, and subtle but hysterical comedy, this film is a remarkable achievement for fans of intelligent cinema. (Buena Vista)