Another subtle, shrewd, and deceivingly simple domestic drama from Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st), Louder Than Bombs also marks the Norwegian film director’s English-language debut. Centering on the travails of widower Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and his two grown sons, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid), who, three years prior, suffered the loss of their matriarch, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), an eminent war photographer whose road accident death may have been deliberate.
In many ways Louder Than Bombs frequents the trail previously blazed with formality in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People and in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, and by comparison, to diminishing returns. It’s too bad considering Trier’s previous work, particularly his muscular coming out party from 2006, Reprise. But, to see a director of Trier’s stature working with top drawer talent like Huppert is a delight, and there are many intense and rememberable moments.
Gene, overly-protective of his estranged teenage son, Conrad, follows him after school one day and sees some alarming and eccentric behaviour. Later, in a Rashomon-like genuflection we revisit the same sequences from Conrad’s perspective which intelligently outs all the odd behaviour.
If only more of the film operated in such a way. Conrad, in many ways is the thrust of the film, his dream-like recollections of his mother, and specifically her death, offer up some startling and arresting spectacle. His wry observations and interactions with his flummoxed father and over-confident older brother offer a Catcher in the Rye wryness that all but vanishes when Jonah’s story stymies the plot.
Huppert haunts the film, a ghost in her son’s dreams, a happy but fading memory to her husband, an enigma unraveling in her eldest son’s eyes as he scours the data files of her digital SLR, in advance of a retrospective of her work.
With all the saccharine soul searching that this sort of upper-middle-class autopsy wagers – it never quite degenerates that illimitably – it avoids mealymouthiness. A lingering close-up of Huppert offers a wonderful example of cinematic portraiture, suggesting the Trier still has his A-game packed away somewhere.
As a coolly moving drama Louder Than Bombs doesn’t make a lot of outburst, but as a showpiece for gracefully-acted dramatics – particularly from Byrne, a fine actor who’s been underutilized for far too long – it functions fine. For all its nominal promise, Louder Than Bombs doesn’t fulminate on screen, but it doesn’t fizzle out, either.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)