Cast: Bill Murray, Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton and Owen Wilson
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Hugo Guinness
Arguably the most critically-acclaimed and popular arthouse director working today, Wes Anderson’s name alone conjures up ideas of symmetrical imagery, all-star casts and quirky, nostalgic stories. Finally, after months of waiting, his latest film is now here – ‘The French Dispatch’ – and it’s packed full of everything that makes a Wes Anderson film, plus a little more.
Perhaps most similar in structure to ‘Grand Budapest’, Anderson’s latest release is divided into three distinct stories, all of which are established through their connection to a European newspaper as having been the three best articles they’ve published over the last decade. In the small spaces between these stories, we catch glimpses of the French Dispatch itself, a dedicated but slightly obscure publication which is home to a charming group of individuals who seem at first to work better alone than as any sort of team. Head of the whole operation, BIll Murray’s ‘Arthur Howitzer Jr.’ unites this bunch and auspiciously pushes them to greatness from behind the scenes.
Ten films into his ever-expanding career, any fans of Wes Anderson will know what they’re getting in for when they sit down for another of his stories. However, although there are many stylistic choices in this latest release which could easily be compared to his previous work – the obsessive attention to visual detail, a fondness for fast-talking, witty dialogue, as well as characters who wouldn’t be out of place in the stories found on any childs’ bookcase – ‘The French Dispatch’ shows audiences that the director is still developing his approach to filmmaking in fresh and exciting ways. Some visual moments within this release, particularly during night scenes, deliver a few of the most breathtaking shots that I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. A consideration for the way snow falls, or the contrast between human conflict and natural imagery makes for some incredible visual storytelling. Furthermore, particular moments within both the prison story and the student rebellion include such inventive approaches to narrative that it’s hard to believe we don’t see such things more often. The changing of the young Moses Rosenthaler to his Senior delivers a simple, but beautiful moment. If there’s one thing in particular that Wes Anderson should be remembered for, it’s his ability to deliver these small moments of beauty in subtle yet powerful ways. Whilst ‘The French Dispatch’ may not be one of his greatest releases, it’s undeniable that there are some really excellent pieces of filmmaking on display at times.
Although I think that bringing to life three of the best stories released by a publication is a fitting and poignant way to honour it’s time as a popular news department, in practice, the short nature of the stories often detracts from an audience’s ability to truly invest in the characters, and when these characters are being brought to life by an A-star cast list longer than this review, it can become even harder to ensure that everyone receives as much screen time as an audience may expect. This lack of connection between the viewer and the characters is what really detracts from the emotional impact of ‘The French Dispatch’, and whilst there are some great stories surrounding characters such as the dynamic relationship explored between Benicio Del Toro’s ‘Moses Rosenthaler’, Léa Seydoux’s ‘Simone’, and Adrien Brody’s ‘Julian Cadazio’ in the first story, as well as that of Timothée Chalamet’s and Frances McDormand’s poetic relationship which works as the driving force behind the second short story, overall there are so many characters introduced that you can’t help but feel slightly apathetic towards many of them.
‘The French Dispatch’ is such a well-made and, at times, brilliant film, that whilst it may not be the strongest or most well-paced story by Wes Andesron, there’s still so much to gain from it. Even if it’s the first film of his that you’ve seen, I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch. If you end up loving it, you’ll suddenly have a brilliant back-catalogue of films to enjoy.