The Darjeeling Ltd

David Segurola 26/11/2007

Rating: 4/5

The modern cinema-going experience has become a harrowing rape, an unenjoyable and needlessly expensive night out. Having been charged several million pounds for an hour and a half's uncomfortable “entertainment”, which comes festooned with advertisement's dirty molesting hands and a barrage of sickening American patriotism (why do British people constantly pay money to be wilfully fed American propaganda and self-aggrandisement?), it's akin to being mugged and beaten by a grinning, cackling moron. The constant and immutable shitness of current Hollywood filmmaking is to blame - having become addicted to expensive graphics and bloated celebrity, mainstream film has been robbed of all invention, originality or stimulation. Cinema just isn't fulfilling anymore; instead it's dull and soulless, cynically fingering your wallet whilst offering very little more than explosions and half-arsed pornography in return.

Writer-director Wes Anderson's films are, however, a paradise of colour and vitality bordering the sea of turgid profiteering: beautiful to watch, magnificently acted and cast, shot with the care and attention of a fierce oil painting, moulded and weaved with the intelligence and wit an audience deserves. With films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, the director feels no need to cram the plot with eternal twists when, aesthetically, each films is already fulfilling enough to capture the audience's imagination.

His latest offering, The Darjeeling Limited, is no exception to a fine track record: often acutely funny, perhaps twee and cute, yet still sexy and cool, studying peculiar and endearingly flawed characters. It follows the fractured relationship between three brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody) as they travel across India on the eponymous train in search of a friendship they never had, and eventually in search of their estranged mother. At first, the relationship is marked by the tragedy of disconnected and disinterested brothers, arguing over who was their dead father's favourite and attempting to artificially recreate an imagined “bond”, but a connection forced by the backdrop of India's unfathomable chaos (“How can a train be lost?”) quickly ensues.

Wilson as Francis, the eldest, plays his role with comfortable aplomb and without really needing to distance himself from the light-hearted caricatures of his more conventional comedies. Whilst he orders his brothers' dinner and employs a man with Alopecia to laminate daily timetables, Brody as Peter (the straight man, perhaps the most realistic character in a tripartite of fantasised eccentrics) continues to mourn their father's loss one year after the funeral and attempts to hide the imminent birth of his son from the invasive glare of inquisitive siblings. Schwartzman as Jack, in typically doe-faced form, chases Indian train-waitresses and pepper sprays his brothers - the film also comes with a trim 13-minute prologue, The Hotel Chevalier, starring Natalie Portman as Jack's very naked girlfriend in a Parisian hotel room.

One particularly memorable moment comes as the Whitman brothers rush to save three drowning Indian boys, one each - Peter's child dies on the rocks, and as he carries the dead boy out of the water he repeats “I didn't save mine… I didn't save mine.” Anderson's nimble handicraft quickly exposes the weakness of adulthood when dragged back to childhood competition, as so often used for comedic effect, with a touching sincerity.

The film's charm lies in the finely tuned quirks and affably flabby dialogue between the three brothers, often neatly extracted from the real-life pettiness and resented childishness of brotherhood. Whilst each character is likeable and accessible (especially to your reviewer, with his own pair of estranged brothers), as ever it's important to suspend belief and immerse yourself in Anderson's idealistic world of cool one-liners and absurd spontaneities. Stylistically, Anderson treads little new ground: cute details designed to sate the audience's eyes abound, and the train itself as a film set works wonderfully, confining the brothers into the heated atmosphere of fraternal competition and eventually releasing them into the wild Indian backwaters.

Naturally, it's glorious to watch, often very funny in its absurdity and soundtracked to perfection by The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and Satyajit Ray. Of course, on top of this it's achingly indie - fussy in its attention to detail, proud of its hip style and so self-conscious it makes your limbs numb, but that is of course an inevitablity of a film made with such care and personal attention. In contrast to the impersonal, cold and moronic bombast of Hollywood, The Darjeeling Limited makes going to the cinema an appealing delight.