Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited seems to have received the least attention of all his films, passed over by critics and audiences alike. A cryin’ shame. The director is at the top of his game here, offering up a typically off-key but surprisingly profound and heartfelt film.
Admittedly, it’s not for all tastes, but you should know that before coming in; though different in plot, Darjeeling is identical in style and tone to the director’s previous two films, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Anderson has been largely criticized for repeating himself here, but those who appreciate his work wouldn’t want it any other way.
After a nice opening cameo with Bill Murray as a businessman late for the titular train, we’re introduced to brothers Whitman: Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrian Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman).
Still coming to terms with their father’s death a year ago, the brothers are undertaking a purported spiritual journey through India, sidetracked by a variety of Indian medications, a poisonous snake, romantic interludes, and rising tension between the three.
Infractions leave them stranded in the desert with their father’s baggage (specially designed for the film by Louis Vuitton); to reveal any more would deprive the film from some of its best moments.
I may be in the minority here, but no one can quite handle tragedy like Anderson; the attempted suicide scene in Tenenbaums was wonderfully affecting, and there’s a similar scene here.
Some may reject it, not knowing how to react as it’s handled in the same kind of off-key manner of the rest of the film, but Anderson reaches a rare kind of truth; there’s a deep profoundness in his manner-of-fact presentation.
I sometimes questioned the honesty in the terminally strange Life Aquatic, but Darjeeling comes straight from the heart. Cast is superb, right down to the smallest of roles; Anderson standby Wilson is at his best since Bottle Rocket, while Schwartzman and Brody add unexpected depth to their characters.
The director makes wonderful use of music culled from other movies, specifically pieces from early Merchant-Ivory and Satyajit Ray. Cinematography and production design are breathtakingly beautiful; each frame of the film is a work of art.
At press and festival screenings, the movie was preceded by Anderson’s wonderful short Hotel Chevalier, which takes place some time before Darjeeling.
The short features the characters played by Schwartzman and Natalie Portman (who only has a dialogue-free cameo in the feature) at a Paris hotel, with Portman more appealing – and underdressed – than she’s ever been before.
The short won’t come attached to the feature for normal distribution, but you can download it for free through iTunes (click) or, perhaps, other sources.