The Red Right Hand

With Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson
Bill Murray
Owen Wilson
Cate Blanchett
Anjelica Huston
Willem Dafoe
Jeff Goldblum
Michael Gambon

My initial feeling after leaving the cinema was that Wes Anderson is simply running out of ideas. Having seen some of his previous attempts (Rushmore, The Royal Tanenbaums) I could just see those films projected onto a different background. A Life Aquatic is an extremely funny film but it's major faults are somewhat clear to those who know or have seen Anderson's last three films. The problem wasn't just familiarity, though, it was the base feeling that I had seen this all happening before but to different people but with better and more effective cinematic outcomes.

Similarly, the Coen Brothers have been labelled as a film-making talent that will go unappreciated by the masses for their far-fetched comedies, influences and applied tastes. If you like what the Coen's or Woody Allen have offered over the years then the chances are that you'll favour Anderson's films too. If I were you I would start with A Life Aquatic and if you enjoyed it I would proceed onto Rushmore and then The Royal Tanenbaums. To recognise the potential of a director and then to see it realised and to come together so well on film is always a wonderful progression in cinema. The only problem is, Anderson seems to be back-peddling and losing the sight and innovation that he once had.

The influence of Cousteau is so apparent with elements of the film representing 60's issues and looks. The inclusion of a yellow submarine is one of the most obvious. The lack of CG is a nice break, especially when every modern big blockbuster seems to dictate that the best way to make a film viewable and appealing to the masses is no longer plot but names and computer generations. The back-screen, highlighted look of the underwater sequences gives an odd sense of disassociation and allows you to immerse yourself in an all-together silly world. So the odd elements of the film pass as believable because the whole film is so unbelievable.

Don't get me wrong, though, A Life Aquatic is still a glorious alternative comedy, I'm simply trying to say that there are better comedies - some of which have come from the same mind that conceived this very film. The problem starts with the slow awkwardness of the plot (which doesn't really seem to pan out very well). Bill Murray play Steve Zissou - an oceanographer, very similar to Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau was asked in 1966 to make a TV series, 'The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau' which ran for 8 years - who has just lost his friend and colleague to a large, unheard of shark. So the film's plot kicks off with his announcement that he intends to find this shark and kill it, based on the sole purpose of revenge. Every now-and-then he interacts with others and you get the vague sense of a life outside of the plot (his relationship with his wife [Huston], the introduction of his supposed son [Wilson], the life and times of his producer [Gambon], the back story and conflicts between Zissou and Hennessey [Goldblum], the reporter's [Blanchett] pregnancy) but it's only briefly touched upon, which in some films is key, so as not to distract you from the main plot points. However the main plot point of this film seems so flat and lacking.

The only character arc that really shows is that Zissou finds himself and realises why he's in the business he's found himself in but also values the people around him, from the experiences that presented themselves over the journey of the film. Which works fine but not on it's own, alone it simply seems to make the film work on one level which is ultimately dull and leaves you feeling partially let down.

My ultimate worry and fear is that Anderson doesn't have what it takes to evolve as a director, producing the same things over-and-over. Using the easy methods of satisfying the masses with repetition may work for Disney and the poor, half-arsed attempts that so many film companies actually look for - simply for the sole end of making money - but with a director who provides us with such an obscure set of films (just as Polanski and Coppola did with films like The Pianist and The Godfather) Anderson will be forced to provide his audience with something fresh that they haven't seen, maybe with inherent qualities of his previous works but not the simple regurgitation of said works.

Release Date:
25 February 2005

The Scene To Look Out For:
The true turning point of the film (as far as the comedy is concerned) comes when Zissou's boat is attacked by pirates. Tremendously funny and well directed comedy ending with a superb deadpan line from Murray, "I've never seen a bond company stooge stick his neck out like that."

Notable Characters:
Willem Dafoe plays the odd German, Klaus Daimler. His interjections and general mad humour provides a nice break from the seemingly slow development of the plot.

Highlighted Quote:
"I'm going to fight it, but I'll let it live. What about my dynamite?"

In A Few Words:
"Pretty funny, but could have been so much more"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon