I’ve always been a big fan of Wes Anderson and love the largely idiosyncratic world his characters lived in. However, Bottle Rocket was the one Wes Anderson film I couldn’t quite get into. Maybe it was because it was my first exposure to Anderson when I first saw it, but I found it to be overly quirky and a bit disorienting. Watching it again, on the other hand, has completely turned my opinion around and I now will admit I severely misjudged the film before. It’s a dazzling, wickedly funny take on the crime genre.
The opening of Bottle Rocket has the feel of what the rest of the picture is like. Anthony (Luke Wilson), a lowly twenty-something underachiever from Texas, departs from a mental asylum in Arizona with his best friend Dignan (Owen Wilson). Dignan ties up some bed sheets and tosses it out of their two story building, acting as if their escape was a scene from a prison movie. Their whole mission though is aimless as the institution can allow them to leave.
After this, Dignan tells Anthony about a 75-year life plan he’s been working on, which involves them pulling off a heist and working under a high-time criminal played by James Caan, who runs a lawn mower business to keep his cover. The duo hire their friend Bob (Robert Musgave) as their getaway driver, mostly because he’s the only one they know who owns a car. After the big heist, Anthony, Dignan, and Bon go on the run.
The humor of Bottle Rocket generally derives from the characters not realizing how petty their crimes and actions are, particularly after the brother-relationship between Dignan and Anthony (which probably works so well since actors are actually brothers).
Bottle Rocket also sets up many traits that have appeared on other Wes Anderson movies. Anderson’s ensemble of eccentric characters appear as well as his perspectives from children and wildl sixties soundtrack. His directing style is also clearly evident from his bird’s eye-view shots to his camera stylization. While not quite as colorful as his other movies.
A rampant and very entertaining comic romp, almost like an update on Raising Arizona, Bottle Rocket is full of exuberance and energy. While Anderson’s craft improved later years (his sophomore effort Rushmore still is my favorite by him), it shows a great start for a great director.