Still from 1996's "Bottle Rocket."

viewing 10 seconds of one of his movies could be watched and one might know the man behind it quicker than they could declare the name of an animated big red dog.

 

Such entails why his 1996 debut, Bottle Rocket, makes for that strange phenomenon of a viewing experience. Because a smaller budget forces him to forgo the visual and sensorial style he’s become so famous for hidden in pocket, it doesn’t quite sing in the same way his most remarkable works do. Sometimes we think it’s maybe the work of David O. Russell during his Flirting with Disaster (1996) period. Maybe it’s the product of Quentin Tarantino’s mind around 1992, minus the stylized gore and profanity.

 

Regardless of its being an outlier in Anderson’s filmography, Bottle Rocket lays the groundwork for what the filmmaker would perfect later on: the meticulously mapped cinematography and composition, the dry dialogue, the wacky characters. Just on a smaller, humbler scale.

 

In addition to acting as Anderson’s feature length debut, Bottle Rocket was also the first movie for brothers Luke and co-writer Owen Wilson, both of whom befriended Anderson in college and also appeared in the 1994 short on which the film is based. In the movie, they respectively play Anthony and Dignan, friends who, apparently on a whim, turn to lives of crime when their existences start to bore them.

 

Poor little rich boys with the mindsets of 10-year-olds in the midst of a game of cops and robbers, Anthony recently committed himself to a voluntary psychiatric hospital due to “exhaustion”; Dignan, in the meantime, has concocted a 75-year plan that involves them committing a series of robberies, getting married, building lives for themselves, etc. Anthony’d rather not be bothered, but Dignan won’t have it. He wants his friend to enjoy the pleasures of being a small-time crook.

 

As the film opens, he helps Anthony “break out.” And with the help of their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave), thus begins a pathetic, makeshift journey which involves a couple wild heists and a long-winded stay at shabby hotel in the middle of nowhere.

 

Some could call the film in store slightly unfocused and maybe even a little bit draggy toward its middle – it’s an intellectual comedy that only showcases its zeal in short bursts. When Anderson takes a break from showcasing the absurdist humor which makes Bottle Rocket so appealing (this mostly occurs when faced with the aforementioned heists or the laughable disagreements between the buffoons), we’re wont to wonder if the film necessarily ever had to be more than a short.

 

But that wondering doesn’t last, if only because we’re so distinctly aware that, without this starting point, Anderson’s career wouldn’t be the same as we see it now. Bottle Rocket isn’t exactly game-changing. But because it helped Anderson find his artistic voice, it could be argued that it actually might be. B

DIRECTED BY

Wes Anderson

 

STARRING

Luke Wilson

Owen Wilson

Robert Musgrave

James Caan

Lumi Cavazos

Ned Dowd

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1996

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 30 Mins.

Bottle Rocket November 29, 2017        

hat a strange phenomenon it is watching a film co-written and directed by Wes Anderson before the invisible trademark sign appeared at the end of his name. As of 2017, the Anderson aesthetic is not so much a style as it is a brand – a brand encompassed by whispering French ditties, twee sweaters and bows, primary colors and warm textures, Shots That Look Like Paintings, adorable eccentrics, deadpan comedy that plays like Buster Keaton trying to survive in a Jean-Luc Godard film co-starring Anna Karina. An Anderson film is so instantaneously recognizable, just

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