Pro: These charming men
Opening with a scene of Jonah (Eisenberg) clasping his newborn child, Trier’s Louder Than Bombs is all about family. And revealing the upturned world of the Reeds, still reeling from the loss of wife and mother Isabelle (Huppert) three years ago in an apparent car accident. Father Gene (Byrne) comes into conflict with his sons as the truth about Isabelle’s death threatens to come out.
There are delicious moments, such as younger son Conrad’s slow walk home with his classroom crush Melanie or Huppert’s haunting, ghostly presence, but the film doesn’t quite coalesce into a cohesive whole, with even its enigmatic title dissolving into a mere suggestion of Smiths-style melancholy.
That said, the coolly evocative drama undoubtedly retains Trier’s signature style, with its lens-flared cinematography and poignant moments of intimacy and ecstasy. Gabriel Byrne has rarely been better, and he’s matched by a nuanced performance from Jesse Eisenberg. And while some of its more operatic visuals feel slightly out of place, Louder Than Bombs reveals itself to be a quietly explosive foray into the multilayered lives of others. MW
Con: Heaven knows I'm miserable
Norwegian writer/director Trier first burst onto the arthouse scene after the lyrical, acutely observant Reprise and officially arrived with the gently devastating Oslo, August 31st. So even without assembling a cast featuring such international heavyweights as Huppert and Byrne, his English-language debut would have drawn attention.
As it is, Louder Than Bombs proves a curiously clunky attempt at cracking the family dynamics, failing to resonate on any level. The screenplay, which pictures everyone depressed and secretly having an affair with some other depressed person, has drama with a capital D written all over it. Adding affectation to the dishonesty of the writing, Trier makes liberal use of voice-over monologues and stylised fantasy sequences, thereby magnifying the false indie-movie sentiments with ceremonious flourish.
Huppert lends her majestic visage to the proceedings but can’t salvage much trapped inside the afterlife of a two-dimensional character. Eisenberg’s role as the mature, self-possessed older brother, meanwhile, plays to all his less likeable qualities as a performer and backfires as an example of casting against type. Not so much an outright disaster as a major disappointment, this unsuccessful exercise in cinematic malaise shall hopefully remain a hiccup in the talented Nordic filmmaker’s oeuvre before he charms us again with the sharpness and fluency of his previous work. ZS
Louder Than Bombs | Directed by Joachim Trier (Norway, France, Denmark 2015) with Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg. Starts January 7
Originally published in issue #145, January 2015.