LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, THE
Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a legendary underwater explorer, notorious blow-hard, and known around the globe for his documentaries about life beneath the sea. But life is not going so smoothly for Zissou of late. Out of the blue (as in sky), comes a Kentucky co-pilot named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who claims he might, or might not, be the long-lost son Steve never got to know, after an affair with Ned's mother over 30 years earlier. So Zissou sets sail in a state of uncertainty and takes Ned with him, to make his latest film. His crew is enlarged with pregnant journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), who is doing a cover story (he hopes) on Steve, his loyal German engineer Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), but not his wife (and brains behind his accomplishments) Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston). And just over the horizon is his nemesis, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is my duty to tell you to stop reading this review right now. Come back to it after you've seen the film if you like, but even reading the synopsis is more than necessary. All you need to know is that the film is a rare original, something of lasting value that will keep you engrossed and entertained in a dry, downbeat tone that is focused and filmic and fantastic. Now go.
So you've seen it now? Great, isn't it. Don't you love the dryness, from Bill Murray's underplaying to Anjelica Houston's minimalism. Even Owen Wilson gives us minimalism in performance. Wes Anderson's direction has created an ensemble in which Cate Blanchett's pregnant English journalist is as perfectly in sync as Willem Dafoe's sensitive and complex German engineer.
Of course the script is the goldmine; didn't you admire the opening set up in an Italian theatre? No, it isn't a cinema, hence the curtains. And then we're back there while under the credits we get that terrific singer and guitarist from the crew... The brilliance of the script is in its constant inventiveness; yet we are never thrown out of the story as it weaves and changes, because it remains sharply and sincerely observed. The constant dips into character darkness, the black humour of the conflicted Steve Zissou stumbling in and across relationships from his wife, his crew and his (maybe) son, all play with the same edgy desperation as our own lives. I speak for myself, but I suspect I'm not alone.
It's in these moments of recognition that we find satisfaction, as well as confrontation. The film also confronts with its jagged mood switching, but Anderson never loses his balance and his grip on our feelings.
Technically proficient, and with a David Bowie song book behind it, The Life Aquatic is the film we've been waiting Bill Murray to make after Lost In Translation, and Wes Anderson to direct since Rushmore (1998). Worth the wait.
Review by Louise Keller:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a most unusual film. It's dry and laid back, while the rub is that it is set on the wet landscape of the sea. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, writer/director Wes Anderson's new film also has a bunch of eccentric, looney characters that live in an artificial world of documentary film making. So artificial, even the fish are fake. But there's nothing artificial about Bill Murray's wistful, isolated Steve Zissou, who lives his life as dictated by his image. Murray has an innate ability to endear himself to us, whatever the circumstances, and here he has plenty of rope with which to reel us in. The film may not work in a traditional sense, but its wacky characters are as colourful as the underwater fish world, and the cast looks as though they are having a whale of a time.
Zissou is an oceanographer, who is more of an icon than a serious scientist. His wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston, wearing a stunning array of necklaces) is the brains of the team, that includes Willem Dafoe's ultra-loyal German engineer Klaus, Cate Blanchett's pregnant journalist Jane and Seu Jorge's guitar-playing, singing Pelé dos Santos, who creates the film's rhythm with David Bowie songs translated into Portuguese. Zissou is fast becoming a has-been, and funding is tight as he is about to embark on his latest documentary adventure, which is committed to finding a man-eating shark with animal-print skin. He has just met Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who could well be his son - a fact that creates all kinds of complications for Zissou, who has no paternal instincts whatsoever. Adding to Zissou's insecurities is Eleanor's ex-husband Alistair (Jeff Goldblum), who has better funding, more elegant clothes and a much bigger boat.
The story is a bouillabaise of what happens to Zissou and his friends as they start filming the documentary. There are a few chuckles, but most of the humour lies in the writing and in the creation of the characters. The pleasures of The Life Aquatic are in the journey, and there is plenty to absorb.
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LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, THE (M)
CAST: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor
PRODUCER: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
SCRIPT: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert D. Yeoman
EDITOR: David Moritz, Daniel R. Padgett
MUSIC: Mark Mothersbaugh
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 17, 2005