December 15, 2008
Filial Affection In An Entropic World
Stylistically, “Bottle Rocket” swings between poles of tension and release, order and chaos. In purely visual terms the film is tightly structured, with a systematic use of color (white for Dignan, bright red for Anthony), frontal compositions anchored by the horizon line, and a self-consciously theatrical sense of space: an open foreground for the action, played against a flat, immobile background (just as the motel rises from the flatlands around it). And there is no more linear plot structure than that of the heist film, in which pleasure lies in the orderly fulfillment of a precise program.
Of course, nothing like that happens, and the boys’ assault on a cold-storage warehouse, complete with brightly colored jumpsuits and malfunctioning walkie-talkies, is a disaster sprung from Dignan’s self-delusion. But Mr. Anderson, in this early film, does something he can’t bring himself to do later: he shows us the realization, in Dignan’s eyes, that he has been living in a dream world, and reality has belatedly arrived to claim its price (with interest). The moment comes when Dignan, being led to his cell, casts a single furtive glimpse back at Anthony, and it remains without parallel in Mr. Anderson’s work.
My favorite Wes Anderson movie is far and away The Royal Tenenbaums, but dang it, Bottle Rocket is so charming. It’s like Owen Wilson — sure, it’s an immature mess, but you love it anyways.