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20th Century Fox presents
"I love the way this country smells. I'll never forget it. It's kinda spicy."
DVD ReviewLike an improbable crossing of Franny and Zooey and A Passage to India, The Darjeeling Limited brings Wes Anderson's signature style to the Asian subcontinent, and as with any good road movie, what characters are really in search of is the secrets not of the universe, but of themselves. There's a lot of great deadpan stuff in here—fans of films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums know what to expect from an Anderson picture, and this one certainly delivers. But at time the film gets so caught up in its own cultivated pretensions—are there any other kind of pretensions?—and you sense that everyone involved is so deliberately suppressing emotions, that you can only wish that they would all cut loose a little more. They can, and they should, but they don't, which makes for ninety minutes that can get a little bit stuffy.
The brothers Whitman, having recently buried their father, leave the friendly confines of moneyed Manhattan for the Indian train of the film's title—we're unsure initially if there's been bad blood between the boys, or simply if adulthood has brought some inevitable drift between them. And as appealing as the three lead actors are, they never quite make the sale that they're part of the same family. Owen Wilson plays Francis, the oldest, the caretaker—he's recently been in some sort of accident and spends most of the film with his face heavily bandaged, but is still intent on choreographing the journey, down to ordering his younger brothers' meals. Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman plays Jack, stung from a recent bad breakup, content to find some comfort in stolen trysts with lovely Rita, the train stewardess; and Adrien Brody, on his maiden voyage with Anderson but getting right up to speed with the house style, plays Peter, the most explicitly on the lam from the trappings of adulthood—he breaks the news that his wife is due to give birth in six weeks, and that she doesn't know that he's gone off on a Whitman boys' getaway.
Anderson clearly loves the exoticism of shooting in India, and pays his respects to generations of Americans abroad movies—his sometime muse, Bill Murray, even puts in a silent cameo as a harried businessman, very much in the mode of James Stewart in any number of Hitchcock pictures. But you sometimes sense that he's so cluttered up with style that that's all he cares about—at times it feels like nothing more than forced whimsy, riotous with props like sleeping masks and savory snacks. And at its heart, this is not much more than a story of three lost little boys, with Daddy having passed on and having been abandoned by Mommy. (Anjelica Huston is quite wonderful as their mother, who has become a nun, and the ultimate destination for their road trip.) So for all its airs, the psychology of this is really kind of sophomoric, and might actually feel like something of a retreat for Anderson. The danger for him clearly is of becoming all style and no substance—Whit Stillman should be his cautionary tale—and as good as he is at the drollery of this all, you really do miss the passion that's at the heart of his other films, especially Rushmore and Bottle Rocket.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The necessary caveat to this portion of the review is that dOc was sent only a screener disc, and the technical elements may not be consistent with the specs on the final release; if they are, however, this is an appalling transfer. The flesh of the Caucasian actors is rendered in a garish orange; the Indian actors fare only modestly better by comparison, and there are many scratches, damaged frames, and tremendous imperfections.
Image Transfer Grade: D
Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer isn't nearly as execrable as the video elements, but they're still far from optimal; most of the dialogue is clear, but the atmospherics are deeply confused and mixed poorly.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Death at a Funeral, Juno, Feast of Love, The Savages, The Onion Movie, Hitman, Resurrecting the Champ
Extras Review: The most intriguing extra is Hotel Chevalier (13m:14s), a short film you're encouraged to watch as a prelude to the feature—Schwartzman plays Jack, in Paris, and he's visited by the woman who has broken his heart, played by Natalie Portman. There are lots of pregnant pauses between them and clearly much history between the characters—we're not clued in on everything, which is fine, but occasionally it feels like this may be little more than an excuse to get Portman to take off lots of her clothes. The short does fill in some gaps and answer some questions raised by the feature, so it's certainly worth a look. Aside from trailers, the other notable extra is The Darjeeling Limited Walking Tour (21m:21s) in which production designer Mark Friedberg takes us through the film's principal set and points out many of its details, intercut with footage of Anderson at work.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsFor better or worse, cut from the same bolt of cloth as Wes Anderson's other films. Lots of it is charming and droll, but you can't help but wonder if he hasn't gotten a little too self-congratulatory.
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