Jesse Eisenberg and Isabelle Huppert star in Louder Than Bombs, a story about the death of a war photographer, and the affect her passing has on her family. Here’s Jordan Farley’s reaction…
If there’s a common theme to draw from the films in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it’s that a remarkable number of celebrated directors from across world cinema have chosen 2015 to make their English language debut. Matteo Garrone and Yorgos Lanthimos are the biggest names to do so, but after making waves with his 2011 thriller Oslo, August 31st, Joachim Trier’s English language debut Louder Than Bombs arrives saddled with its own weight of expectation. Unlike Tale Of Tales and The Lobster, however, Trier’s film fails to deliver.
Isabelle Huppert casts a shadow over the tale as Isabelle – a renowned war photographer who died in a road accident barely a mile from home years prior. Her widowed husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne, subdued) and eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg, doing the Jesse Eisenberg thing) know the truth – Isabelle committed suicide, depressed after retiring from a life on the battlefield – but troubled younger brother Conrad (Devin Druid, angsty) has been kept in the dark. When a major new installation dedicated to Isabelle’s work and an imminent newspaper article threaten to kick the hornet’s nest, Gene tries to reconnect with his sons who are going through their own crises.
All that makes Louder Than Bombs sound a lot more eventful and ripe with meaty dramatic potential than it is. In fact this slice of life family melodrama is oddly listless and unengaging. It opens with the birth of Jonah’s son – perhaps the most compelling sequence in the film, funny and intriguing, but a sequence that has almost no bearing on the rest of the narrative. Louder Than Bombs is full of moments like this. There are secrets to be revealed, relationships to be repaired and unspoken truths to be dealt with but there’s very little that’s emotionally satisfying about its characters’ journey, leaving the film feeling futile and flat.
Trier is clearly a talented director, however, and there is evidence of a master craftsman at work here – the well-observed scenes between the brothers picking up where they left off before Jonah left home, the visually striking slow-mo sequences recreating Isabelle’s fatal car crash, a late in the game dusk till dawn walk between Conrad and his high school crush that rings totally true, an extraordinary extreme close up of Huppert’s face that seems to last a lifetime... Gene’s attempts to reconnect with Conrad occasionally throws up some gems too – fantasy MMO Elder Scrolls Online is used to fabulous comic effect in one laugh out loud gag – but they’re snatches of brilliance in an otherwise tedious two hours.
The largely muted response after the screening in Cannes said it all. Louder Than Bombs is well-intentioned with some standout moments and a decent central turn from Druid, but it fails to make a meaningful impression. Let’s hope Trier’s next script is worthy of his demonstrable talents in the director’s chair.
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